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Mr Jellybelly & the Drug Runners


Mr. Jellybelly & the Drug Runners
by A. Bunting

H.M.S.Belfast was on her last voyage home. With her paying-off pennant streaming over her stern the proud flagship or the Far East Station was entering Singapore harbour.

She had steamed 100,000 miles, and used over 60,000 tons of oil fuel during a commission extending for two years;, from October 1950 to 1952.

The crew had consumed a quarter of a million tots of rum, lO½ tons of tea, 250 tons of bread and 625 tons of potatoes. The guns had fired over 8,000 shells, mostly from the 6" turrets directed at targets in Korea. From the ship's company of 950 there had been seven casualties and, sadly, three of them would not be returning home as they had died in action off Korea.

While on the Far East Station the ship had recruited a staff in Hong Kong that operated a Chinese laundry from a compartment on the well deck The laundry operated efficiently and only charged 10 cents per article.

Outside their working hours the Chinese hibernated behind water-tight doors and were seldom seen except when attending tombola sessions.

The crew often referred to the laundry as the 'opium den', but no one interfered with its privacy. One would imagine the Chinese eating their rice, playing ma-jong, gambling and sharing a pipe of 'sweet dreams'!

On the last voyage the laundry had acquired a fat Chinaman who was said to be the boss. Unlike the usual industrious staff, the fat gentleman did not work, and the crew quickly nicknamed him 'Mr. Jellybelly'.

Instead of going alongside at Singapore, the ship anchored and was approached by boats carrying customs and police officers. There was a sudden exodus from the laundry as the Chinese rushed out like rabbits from a warren. No longer inscrutable, the Chinese were running around the upper deck shouting excitedly to each other and throwing 'things' overboard.

Even Mr. Jellybelly was running along the upper deck; but all was in vain. He was arrested and taken ashore manacled, for our Mr. Jellybelly was the leader of a drug smuggling ring and used the laundry as a front (He received a five year prison sentence, while some of the other laundry staff received shorter terms of imprisonment in Singapore.)

A thorough search was made of the ship and a tin of opium was displayed on the pay table so that the ship's company would be able to recognise the dark brown treacly substance as opium.

Opium was, in fact, found in some of the officer's cabins; however, the biggest haul - I Ib. in weight - was found in the chapel behind the altar! None of the crew were implicated in drug taking which, in any case, was not a problem in the 1950s.

One of the last tasks of the Chinese laundry was to wash the 200 ft. paying-off pennant, mentioned in the beginging, for which they cheerfully waived the 10 cent cleaning charge.
The laundry was subsequently taken over by volunteers from the ship's company, who were able to earn some pocket money for a well deserved leave on arrival home.


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