Captain Precious

I had a super day with pupils at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Harwich, Essex, yesterday. I’d never visited Harwich, a port on the Essex coast, before so I checked out its history before I set off. The story that caught my attention was about the steam ship SS Berlin, which had been shipwrecked in a storm just off Harwich in 1907, resulting in the loss of 128 lives. The captain was called John Precious.

So, here are the twelve super-talented pupils with whom I had a creative writing day in their delightful library:


saint j











The gifted and talented Y3-6 pupils of St Joseph’s

And here, in instalments, is the resulting story. It is told from the perspective of John Precious’s son, whom we’ve also called John.  It begins with my ‘letter’ from him which leads in to Mrs Healy’s opening (Mrs Healy being the unflappable deputy head who worked alongside us for the day). The pupils’ instalments will begin tomorrow.  Enjoy!


Main Road




August 13th 1910


To whom it may concern –

I, Jack Arthur Precious, do swear that every word of the tale you are about to read is true.

There are those who would doubt it, accusing me of not being of right mind since the tragedy of the SS Berlin, in which my father, the captain, Jack Precious, lost his life, alongside one hundred and twenty-eight others.

While it is accurate enough that for a while I lost my wits and sought to drown my sorrows in the ale houses of Harwich and Dovercourt, this state of self-pity did not last long. Grief does not put bread on the table and I did not want to end up heaping shame on the family name to add to the sorrow, so on August 13th 1907, I joined the crew of the SS Vansittart, bound for the West Indies.

The morning I was due to set sail, my mother begged me not to go. ‘I have a bad feeling about this, Jack,’ she cried, her face full of concern. I stooped and kissed her on the cheek. ‘Fear not, Ma. Lightning doesn’t strike twice.’

It was a foolish thing to say, for only a week later, the Vansittart met the same end as the Berlin, crushed and battered and sunk by a fierce, unpitying storm. Over two hundred souls perished and it is only by some miracle mine was not one of them. It seemed that the Lord had other plans for me.

This is my account of what happened after that terrible storm, written for me by many trusted friends, my own hands now being useless and incapable of holding a pen. As I’ve already said, there are some who would doubt my tale but every word is true, I swear on my father’s grave.

Your faithful servant,


Jack Precious



 re-told by school mistress C Healy


I woke spluttering, a salty taste in my mouth. I coughed up the seawater and gasped for breath. As I lay there, face down in the sand, I was hit by the realisation that I had survived.

The last thing I remembered was my ship crashing through waves as we travelled through the eye of the storm. I had made it through but what of my crew, my loyal, trusty crew?

I jumped up to look round for them but immediately fell back to the ground. I was hurt, badly. My leg was bleeding and a large piece of metal remained in the wound. Closing my eyes and gritting my teeth I yanked it out. The pain was like nothing I had experienced before. I washed the gash in the waves; it stung with the might of a thousand bees. Ripping the sleeve from my shirt, I wrapped it round my leg as a bandage.

After a while the salt-water worked its magic. I sat up and took stock of what had happened. There was not a soul in sight. My crew were dead and I was alone.

A tear rolled down my face. For the second time I had lost people closest to me. As I thought of my father I wondered what he would do in my position. Would he sit here and cry? I knew the answer to that!  So up I got and headed towards the curious building I could see in the distance.


to be continued….



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