During the 1960s and 70s many schools in the UK had the opportunity to take trips abroad on the cruise ship S.S. Nevasa. In July 1968, schools in south Wales boarded the ship for a cruise to Scandinavia and Russia. The Cynon Valley group consisted of 78 pupils: 30 from ABGS, 13 from AGGS, 4 from the Gadlys Secondary School, 2 from Penywaun Secondary and 29 from Mountain Ash Comprehensive School.
Staff accompanying the pupils were Tom Evans and Gwilym Williams from ABGS, Miss Sinah Thomas from AGGS and Mrs Stewart Jones and Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones both of MACS.
After a two-hour bus trip the party arrived at the King’s Docks in Swansea where the S.S. Nevasa was moored. The pupils were allocated to dormitories and shown the second deck dining area where they were to have their meals. About 1100 south Wales pupils embarked together with 80 teachers and group leaders, as well as 100 independent cabin passengers. The Glamorgan education authority had organised the trip, and its Director of Education, John Brace, was to be onboard too.
The itinerary included a visit to Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland, Leningrad in Russia and Copenhagen on the return voyage. Notable memories that our participants recall included the very rough sea conditions in the Baltic where the ship experienced a Force 9 gale that laid most people low. Gerald Carter recalls that: “Over 70% of us were sea sick. Only 3 from our cabin ventured down for breakfast, including myself. With bravado I told the others that I came from naval stock, my father was in the navy during the war! Whereas in reality I was fighting a battle with the nausea and forcing down the bacon. When a girl joined our table, I noticed she was distinctly green, and within seconds had thrown up across the table onto our plates. I was done for and didn’t make it to the toilets. Neither did the others.”
Another incident that Tom Evans remembers well, was the sudden suspected appendicitis experienced by David Starritt. He was rushed to hospital with Tom and John Brace in attendance. Tom was to stay behind if David had to remain at the hospital. However, the boy made a remarkable and speedy recovery and a return to the ship was now possible. A memorable transfer of the Aberdare pair was made from a naval launch to the Nevasa with both vessels still making headway.
The West and the Soviet Union were still embroiled in the Cold War at the time when the cruise took place, and Tom Evans remembers an incident in Leningrad that might have been indicative of those times. One night Tom had gone on deck under the cover of darkness for a quick smoke of his pipe. Within an instant of striking his Swan Vesta, he was bathed in the light of a powerful search lamp from another ship. Tom has never found out why this happened, but wonders whether he was suspected of signaling to somebody ashore with the light from his matches. Anyway, both pipe and match were quickly extinguished and a startled Tom beat a hasty retreat below deck!
All were much impressed with The Hermitage, an imperial palace during the reign of Catherine the Great, with its various rooms, adorned by priceless works of art. The party were told that if they were to spend just one minute looking at each exhibit in the museum, they would need to spend 90 years there before they had seen everything. Even more memorable was the incident that occurred when the Aberdarians returned to the ship in Leningrad. Gerald remembers: “a girl from the Gadlys had lost her ID card in Leningrad, and the Russian Guards wouldn’t let her back onto the ship. It was the height of the Cold War, and it was the closest I have come to a diplomatic incident. It took all the diplomatic resolve of Girls Grammar School deputy head, Sinah Thomas and of Gwilym Williams to recapture our girl and placate the Russians. They must have thought one of theirs was defecting !”
Russia was indeed the highlight of the trip and many aspects of the country at that time made a lasting impression on the young people. There was still evidence of ruined buildings from the war; the requirement for escorted travel; the drab clothes and the sombre attendants in the museum; the weather was poor also. Outside The Hermitage there were crowds of friendly Russians, some with a smattering of English. Again, Gerald recalls: “We were mobbed for our clothes, chewing gum, and our pounds - the black market was rife. However, I will never forget the experience of spending a penny in a Russian toilet! It was a vast open room with holes in the floor, no cubicles or privacy, and there was a rather large Russian squatting over one of these holes, oblivious to our amazement. Fortunately our call there did not require such a prolonged visit and we made a hasty retreat as soon as possible.”
The third and final port of call was Copenhagen. Freedom was much more apparent there and an unescorted shopping trip was undertaken. There followed a coach trip to Hamlet’s castle at Helsingor in the afternoon, and in the evening the party concluded their trip with a visit to the massive fun fair at the Tivoli Gardens.
The ship returned to Swansea on July 21st with a happy bunch of tired but contented Aberdarians.
Some of the ABGS party onboard S.S. Nevasa
Back row : Gwynne Lloyd Jones, Gerald Carter, Nick Ker, Graham Jenkins, John Canter
Front row : Alan Jones, Wyn Samuel, Howard Morgan, Robert Jones, David Starritt, Mr Tom Evans.
Back Row : Andrew Turner, Arnot Bridges,
Anthony Cove, Nicholas Sharich, Philip Luker, Hugh Davies
Middle Row : Lyndon Greenway, Mark Bennett, Nigel Watts, Kevin Thomas, Richard Lloyd, Alun Jones
Front Row : Peter Stewart, Eirian Rees, Ian Cummings, Cyril Chivers, Richard Dennis, Jeffrey Philo, Brian Evans, David Morgan
Built in 1955, her role was as a 20,000 ton troopship for the U.K. military forces.
She was converted into an educational cruise ship in 1964 and made her first voyage in this new capacity in October, 1965.
See The Aberdarian, 1969, pp 4-5 for another account of
Gowerton Girls’ Grammar School were also on this Nevasa cruise, and their account is on this Gowertonian website page.