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  • Writer's pictureL.J. Singh

Visit to 10 Downing Street

Visit to 10 Downing Street


The news of Rishi Sunak, set to become the UK's Prime Minister, the first non-white and person of Indian origin, brought back an item from my memoirs, about my visit to the famous 10 Downing Street in December 1969. As a First Engineer (ranked just below chief engineer), after my annual leave, I reported to my Head-OfficesBombay. I was instructed to join a bulk carrier vessel, MV Narrotam Morarjee, which was to call at the port of Mormugao in Goa for loading cargo. My passage to Mormugao was booked in a ferry service boat plying between Bombay and Goa, after a few days and before the arrival of the big ship. My stay was arranged at Grand Hotel in Ballard Estate, very near to my Head office, for a few days. But the visit of the ship I was to join as First Engineer, was delayed and later cancelled due to some reason. But when one of our company's ships, Jala Kendra's Chief Engineer was to be relieved on medical grounds, I was asked to join as her Chief Engineer at Madras. Once I got my letter of promotion, I hurriedly went to the market to buy chief engineer's four-stripe epaulettes and got my uniform coat sleeves fixed with a fourth strip, as there were only three stripes of First Engineer on the sleeves. After reaching Madras I was signed on as Chief Engineer of MV Jala Kendra on the 7th of November 1969, which is my younger son's birthday.

My ship after loading cargo for UK and European ports departed from Madras after a few days and sailed for loading some more cargo from Colombo in Sri Lanka and again returned back to Cochin on our western coast. After completion of loading at Cochin, we sailed for a long voyage to UK and Continental ports through the Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. Our ship arrived in London late in December 1969 just before Xmas and New year's time. Since I was newly promoted, I used to wear my winter uniform even while going ashore, maybe for flaunting the seniormost rank of my career. On one of these sightseeing jaunts, I went ashore for my first ever visit 10 Downing Street, one of the most famous addresses in the UK which has become very well renowned worldwide, visited by millions, now myself included. I was amazed to see an ordinary-looking black door house on a not-very-broad street. A bobby standing outside the famous residence of the UK PM's official home came and saluted me, (British are known for respecting uniforms, especially, even more, the Naval uniform). He introduced himself and asked me if I am captain or chief engineer of a Merchant Navy ship, when I replied yes I am from an Indian Merchant Navy ship, he was even more respectful. My few questions were well responded to. But when he invited me to have a look-see inside a section where some visitors are allowed, I had to politely decline due to my very tight schedule. After visiting my company's London office I returned to my ship and issued the departure preparedness instructions to my staff, as is quite normal when sailing time is confirmed.




Written By-

LAL SINGH, Retd. Chief Engineer ( IMS)

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