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Bringing back contraband from the States

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Unique ID:19441
Description:A ship worker on board 'Queen Mary' talks about how workers would bring back contraband goods from America and the tricks they used to smuggle them through Customs.
Copyright:Southampton City Council
Partner:SCC Oral History Unit
Partner ID:Unknown


People listening to this won't believe this but this is the honest truth.  That was one of the things I used to bring from the States.  And if I had brought a dozen boxes of chocolates I couldn't have brought a better thing... other than nylon stockings.  That and tomato sauce was the ‘in’ thing.  Of course, as I have previously said, we were still rationed, we were rationed well into the '50s, everything was in short supply.  Here again, another story prevails from that.  That in those days nylon stockings for women in this country were prohibited so we were allowed to bring in either three or six pairs, I'm not quite sure, which you paid duty on but of course there was quite a market for those days.  If we could we’d bring more in but of course if you were caught by the Customs a lot was confiscated and you were fined.

There was always the rummaging crew, the Customs, that came on Nab Tower who literally came on board to rummage right through engine room, through all the coal stores, through crews' cabins, or through the glory holes, and especially if we were coming in from lay-up which was round about October of every year, there was six weeks lay up, and of course those that smoked wanted their cheap cigarettes so they found all sorts of funny places to store cigarettes in.  And there again six weeks on low pay...I think it was £25 a month we got in those days, £25 a month, no tips of course because we had no passengers and no opportunity of making money other ways, we then were looking for bringing some saleable commodity...um stockings that sort of thing...to bring into to… to sell.

Customs were very very....always on duty down the bottom of the gangway.  How do you get past them?  Well there is the famous story that goes of a chap that carried the cardboard box...because every trip you always brought lots of stuff that you had bought from the States...foodstuffs that sort of thing...and you had these boxes which you could see they were American boxes, they were stamped with the codings which were American, and this particular character this day went down the gangway and was stopped at the bottom of the gangway and told the Customs officer. He said “I've got a cat in here”.  The Customs officer said, “Oh yes, tell me another one”.  “Look”, he said, “if I open up and you look in the cat will jump out and run back up the gangway”.  The Customs officer didn't believe him, made him open the box and with that there was a cat in the box, it jumped out the box and ran back up the gangway.  

Crew member says to the Customs, “now look, I've gotta go back and get the cat because I've gotta take it to the vet”.  Goes back on board, picks up a similar box marked exactly the same, packed exactly the same, walked down the gangway, saw the Customs.…. “I've got 'im, I've found 'im, you don't wanna have another look do you?”  “No, go on,” and off he went and of course he had his contraband in the box.  But in those days it was very very simple contraband, it wasn't drugs or anything like that, it wasn't about, it was just purely and simply stuff that could be brought ashore very innocently and sold for a few bob to make a few bob.


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