‘Norway, the land of the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights’, screams the brochure, which goes on to advertise the benefits to both body and mind of the sports and recreational activities available in this country of ‘virginal scenery of unrivalled beauty.’
How many people, this author is left wondering, would have seen this advert in 1930s Britain, and dreamt of skiing in the crisp white snow of a Norwegian mountain, or ice skating on a frozen lake, surrounded, it must be said, by a bevy of Nordic beauties.
Fortunately for those dreamers, travel to this far off land was perfectly possible thanks to the Fred Olsen lines and their two new vessels, the MV Black Prince and the MV Black Watch. It is a model of this latter vessel, the first of the Fred Olsen passenger ships to bear the name Black Watch, which is the focus of this month’s blog as the Museum’s Object of the Month.
The MV Black Watch was launched on June 2nd 1938 with her naming ceremony being performed by Lady Mary Dormer, the wife of the then British Minister in Oslo. She was a twin screw motor vessel, powered by two nine cylinder 2 stroke engines which powered her at a comfortable 18 knots. Measuring 385’ 9” in length, with a displacement of around 5,000 tons, she could carry 250 passengers, 200 First Class, and 50 Second Class, on bi-weekly sailings departing at 8pm from Newcastle every Tuesday and Saturday, and arriving three days later in Oslo at 7am, weather permitting. The prices, for the season 1st January to 15th March, depended on where you were staying, but a 16-day cruise varied from 16 pounds 7 shillings, for the Hunder resort, up to 22 pounds 10 shillings for the Finse skiing resort. For those passengers wishing only to sail on the vessel, the price of a cabin was 5 pounds 10 shillings for First Class or 3 pounds 15 shillings for Second Class.
These tickets allowed the MV Black Watch’s passengers to travel in some style on their Nordic Cruise. The vessel had two promenade decks, the one to the aft being partially covered, which allowed for a variety of deck games and even dancing if the passengers wanted, as the aft promenade also had a powerful radio. The deck below, named the Saloon Deck, was the First Class area, and featured a set of rooms for smokers and non-smokers. To the forward end of the ship was a smoke room, decorated in polished nut wood and white walls, with paintings by the Norwegian artist Aage Storstein, whilst to the aft was a bar and a lounge for non-smokers. This room was decorated by artworks from Munch and Werenskiold. On either side of these rooms were restaurants, and at the aft end of the ship was a large dining saloon which could seat all 200 passengers. These public rooms had been decorated by the Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg.
The Second Class rooms, in the deck below, were in no way of a mean standard, and great care had been taken to include as many decorative features as possible, such as original artwork, set against a backdrop of pale walls and mahogany features. Like the First Class area, the Second Class recreation rooms were for divided for smokers and non-smokers, and included a bar and a dining area.
The First Class Cabins comprised of single berth rooms, however there was also a special suite comprising of a sitting room and two bedrooms with private bathrooms. The vessel boasted luxurious bathrooms along the cabin deck as well as a Finnish ‘Vapour Bathroom.’ The Second Class accommodation comprised of two berth cabins, all of which were well served with bathrooms. The Fred Olsen Company was especially proud of the fact that all of the Saloons, berths and bathrooms were supplied with warm and cold air through the ships Thermotank system, which ensured that the air conditioning throughout the ship was of the correct temperature, humidity, and ozone level.
As a final finish, the MV Black Watch was fitted with a figurehead, designed by the sculptor Ørnulf Bast and cast in bronze, which portrayed a Scottish soldier in Black Watch uniform. The figure was surrounded by laurels on which were recorded the battle honours of the Regiment. The same artist created the stern decoration, which depicted an eagle with outstretched wings on which was inscribed the name of the vessel.
As we come to the end of this blog you may have noticed that I have been speaking of this ship in the past tense. The reason for this is that the vessel no longer exists. Far from being scrapped, the ultimate end for the ship was far more dramatic. Following the outbreak of the Second World War the Black Watch and the Black Prince were withdrawn from their roles as passenger liners and both ships were laid up in Norway to be used as grain warehouses. At this point in the war Norway was regarded as a safe place for both vessels. However, the situation rapidly changed on 9th May 1940 when the Germans invaded Norway. Both the Black Prince and the Black Watch were captured and used by the German navy in a variety of roles. By 1945 the Black Watch was being used as a supply ship for the German submarines operating in Northern waters, and a few days before the end of the war the vessel was sunk by the Fleet Air Arm. It now lies in 60 fathoms of water.
Though the ship is now gone, the name the Black watch lives on in a new passenger liner, operated by Fred Olsen Cruises, which continues the tradition of its forebear in offering state of the art luxury as it carries its passengers to their holiday destinations.
The scale model of the MV Black Watch is housed in the Collection Store at Balhousie Castle. It can be seen on any of the Store Tours which take place at 4pm on the first Friday of every month and are free to the public. These tours must be booked in advance.