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16 October 2014

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Ron Johnson: A Sailor's Life

A Sailor's Life

By Ron Johnson
September 2004,
A digital story from Who Do You Think You Are?

"My Dad, Charlie Johnson, was always in love with the sea. He was born in 1908. He had three brothers: Tom, Albert, Sam, and sister Doris. They lived in Toxteth Park, Liverpool - close by the Mersey and its Docks.

In 1930 Charlie made his first trip - sailing with Houlder Bros. - he went to the exotic lands of South America: Montevideo; Buonas Aires. He'd tell me stories of ships captured by head-hunters on the Parana River, and the time he was caught smuggling by customs and had to hand over the booty to get out of jail.

In 1933 he married the girl next door. Mrs. Machin was the landlord and her daughter, Florence, came every Friday for the rent. Romance blossomed.

Dad spent five years on La Rosarina and when she was scrapped, he was so angry with the company he resigned and went sailing to the Cape of Africa with T. J. Harrison.

In 1941 his ship was sunk by mine. Dad got extra shore leave to rehabilitate. Thanks to the sinking, I came along in '42.

He spent the rest of the War on North Atlantic Convoys. When Peace broke out, Mum finally got him to swallow the anchor and he took a shore job repairing ships. True to form, sister Barbara was born a year later.

Dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps but mum was damned if she was going to lose her lad to the sea.

In 1966 Dad had a stroke at work. He was rushed from ship to hospital, but died the next day. I think Mum died with him, though she lasted another four years.

I wish I could have asked him more about his life, but youth had no time to listen. It's only now - nearly 40 years on - that I realise what I missed. But I do know what he left me - pride in your work, the quiet dignity of your labour, and a respect for your fellow man. And above all, I now know, I really am my father's son."

Please tell us a little about yourself.
Retired aged 62 married to Anne with children Kathy and Samantha, granddaughter Emily and two doggies Rosie and Katie.

What's your story about?
My father Charles Johnson - his life and times.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
I wanted to leave something of my father for my daughter and granddaughter. I feel I owed this to his and my mother's memory.

Any additional comments?
I'm very grateful for the help and support given to me by the BBC's team which has enabled me to produce something very meaningful, given me useful skills in digital filmmaking and has allowed me the opportunity to enjoy a very memorable week.

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