"FAREWELL" UGANDA
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The history of the famous UGANDA is familiar to many but now,  21 years after her final BI cruise,  she deserves another nostalgic look.  She is not just a vanished vessel but also represents a past era,  one that this ship so wonderfully captured and maintained single-handedly for so long.
 
Built for British India's UK-East Africa run  (the line's founder Sir William MacKinnon having played a critical role in the development of British East Africa in the 1880s.)  UGANDA was the second of two new mailships built by Barclay Curle in 1951-52.   She was distinguishded from KENYA by her funnel which was 12 feet higher.  UGANDA made her first voyage to Dar-es-Salaam  and Mombasa via Suez in August 1952.   The "BI Sisters' were the best British tonnage on the route,  decorated and fitted out to a rather higher standard that the Union-Castle KENYA CASTLE trio.   KENYA and UGANDA were simply splendid looking vessels of perfect proportions and possessed that certain 'dignity' that only a BI mailship summoned up.

Berthed in the late evening Scandinavian light,  UGANDA lies alongside at Kristiansand,  Norway.

ugandck.jpg
Courtesy Peter C. Kohler - SM MAR/04

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Courtesy Peter C. Kohler - SM MAR/04

In an age of futuristic funnels,  UGANDA's was tradition personified,  her immediate trademark.   She was the last ship in the world to wear British India funnel colours.

Changing times,  in particular independence of the African colonies and air travel,  put paid to this final era of the African mailship.   KENYA went to Italian breakers in 1969,  barely middle aged,  but UGANDA went on to a remarkably successful new career as one of BI's unique 'educational' cruise ships.   These dated to before World War II and were revived in 1961 by the former troopships DUNERA and DEVONIA.   In 1965,  NEVASA,  the largest of all BI liners,  joined the novel and now very successful educational cruise programme.   Each ship carried 800 students,  drawn from schools all over Britain and beyond,  accompanied by their own teachers,  and 300 separate cabin passengers,  on fortnight-long cruises to the Baltic,  Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

ugandbk.jpg
Courtesy Peter C. Kohler - SM MAR/04

Of all Britain's post-war mailships,  UGANDA can surely lay claim to being one of the most well-proportioned.  Here she is above photographed in her original configuration and livery.  The black hull was painted white in 1956.

ugandry.jpg
Courtesy Peter C. Kohler - SM MAR/04

UGANDA completing her last refit at Falmouth Docks in November 1983 after returning from the Falklands War.

uganscol.jpg
Courtesy Peter C. Kohler - SM MAR/04

UGANDA berthed alongside at Piraeus in March 1981.   Her student passengers are ashore learning the wonders of the classical world in a way they could never do in a classroom.

ugansalon.jpg
Courtesy Peter C. Kohler - SM MAR/04

UGANDA's interiors were a unique timewarp.   The smoking room featured elephant tusks,  figured aspen panelling and a fireplace.

THE FALKLANDS CRISIS:
 
On April 13th 1982 UGANDA was hastily called up to help out in the Falklands Crisis.   She was converted in 6 days at Gibraltar into a hospital ship and sailed with the Task Force.   During the ensuing war,  730 casulaties were treated on board the ship and,  after 113 days and 26,150 miles,  she returned to a well-earned hero's welcome at Southampton on August 9th.   BI ships and crews had served Queen and Country since the Crimea and none more proudly than UGANDA.
 
Although she did return to her BI Educational cruises on September 25th. 1982,  they proved short-lived.  Bookings were slow in recovering and P & O took advantage of a lucrative Government charter of the ship to serve as a troopship between Ascension Island and the Falklands whilst the airport there was being reconstructed.  Her final cruise ended at Malta on January 2nd 1983 and she sailed for Ascension just 9 days later.  More than a few of the soldiers she carried had sailed first in the ship as students.  Duty done and battered by arduous duty in the South Atlantic,  UGANDA arrived at Falmouth on April 25th 1985.   Despite efforts to preserve her,  she was sold to Taiwanese breakers and arrived at Kaohsiung on July 15th 1986.   In the end she cheated the breakers,  capsizing during typhoon Wayne on August 22nd.

UGANDA From a colour transparency by Roy Cressey
ugandafire.jpg
SM AUGUST/86

There is no doubt that the most memorable departure of all time from the River Fal came on the afternoon of May 20th 1986, when the once gracious and splendid British India liner UGANDA sailed on her final voyage. For the voyage to the breaker's yard in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, she was renamed TRITON, and registered at Kingston, Jamaica by the Triton Shipping Co. of London.

The weather was fairly good with long sunny intervals, with a force 3 from the West. Just after midday, Falmouth's four harbour tugs arrived in King Harry Reach. As each tug arrived in the river, the pilots aboard the TRITON told them where they would be required. A little after 1.30 p.m. the bow tugs were connected, the last lines between the liner and the GOLDEN HAWK were let go and the TRITON slowly edged forward picking up her anchors as she made way at the entrance to Coombe Creek.
As the ship passed St. Mawes the two bow tugs let go, first the St. Budoc and then the St. Piran, while, at the same time the St. Gluvias gave the old liner a water display with her fire fighting equipment. Ships and tugs hooted, cars sounded their horns, and the liner replied with a blast on her siren. The TRITON, now under her own steam, headed out into Falmouth Bay and the open sea, black smoke pouring from her funnel, which, at one time, completely engulfed her as she steamed out of the harbour.

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Author's File

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Courtesy Peter C. Kohler - SM MAR/04

Above,  a mixture of old and new.  UGANDA's wheelhouse dated from the 1967 rebuilding but the binnacle and ship's wheel were her original 1952 fit.

For a year the UGANDA lay rusting at her mooring in the River Fal, for most of the time flanked and hidden by one or more other merchant vessels in a similar state of idleness. There was a faint hope that she might be saved from the breaker's yard; in October of 1983 a devoted band of followers had formed the "SS UGANDA SOCIETY", their principal aim being the long term preservation of the vessel 'as a classic example of British passenger shipping'. It was a commendable idea, even though, since her rebuilding in 1967, the UGANDA was hardly a classic example of a British passenger ship. The Society worked tirelessly in an effort to realize their aims. At one time they had hoped to preserve the ship as a sea-going vessel, but whilst her hull and machinery were in a reasonably good condition, the UGANDA's upper works had taken a battering in the last few years of her operational service, and the cost of refitting and converting her would have been prohibitive. Right from the start the Society was fully aware of the considerable financial hurdles which would have to be overcome.
Whilst the "UGANDA" Society's members were active in trying hard to find ways to save the ship, P & O themselves were active in trying to find a viable alternative to scrapping her. It seems that interest was shown in the UGANDA by the People's Republic of China which wanted to turn her into a floating leisure centre. However, the negotiations came to nothing, and perhaps it is just as well because this sort of fate is probably what Lady Hall, the UGANDA's sponsor, had in mind when she said, "I think I would rather she went to the breakers than be sold for a possibly sordid life".

Faced with no prospect of a sale and with the continuing need to pay lay-up costs, in March 1986 P & O placed the UGANDA on the demolition market. Soon after this, at the end of April, she was sold for breaking up in Taiwan with delivery expected to be within 6 weeks. She had been bought by the Jamaica-owned Triton Shipping Company and was registered in Jamaica, being renamed TRITON for the delivery voyage.

At first it was thought the ship would sail via Capetown, but this was changed to by way of Suez - a route with which the old liner was familiar. In any event it was the end of a proud ship, and the final chapter in the history of the British India Steam Navigation Company, a shipping line which could trace its roots back 130 years to 1856, when the young Scotsman, William Mackinnon, first formed the Calcutta & B*+urmah Steam Navigation Company.

With the passing of the UGANDA, BI's once familiar colours of two white bands on a black funnel disappeared from the sea lanes forever.

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Courtesy M.O.D. - SM DEC/90

UGANDA's CONTRIBUTION TO THE FALKLAND's WAR EFFORT

The UGANDA had been requisitioned on April 10th 1982 for use as a hospital ship and was converted at Gibraltar in under three days. Fitted with a helicopter platform at her stern, she was given full hospital facilities together with a satellite communications system and a gantry to facilitate refuelling at sea. She left Gibraltar on April 19th and while en route was fitted with two fresh water making plants. She arrived at the Falklands area on May 11th. Her role as a hospital ship ceased on July 10th.

With her red crosses painted out and her funnel painted buff she left the Falklands on July 18th with the Ghurkas of the Fifth Infantry Brigade on board, arriving at Southampton on August 9th. After a major refit at North Shields she then resumed her role as a cruise ship.

UGANDA's career,  as mailship,  educational cruise ship,  hospital ship and transport,  was in the best traditions of the Merchant Navy.   She earned her place in history as the last BI liner.  But most enduringly was the place she earned in the hearts of her passengers,  her officers and her crew who still affectionately remember this very special ship.

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