Sail of the half century

TWO men whose lives have run parallel have finally met after 51 years.

David Witcombe of Kyogle and David Benge of Newcastle trained for the British merchant navy on the TS Vindicatrix at the age of 15 in 1962, but they did not know each other.

The two Davids then went on to spend a few months working on RMS Queen Elizabeth as bridge boys, yet still did not meet.

 

NEW OLD FRIENDS: David Benge of Newcastle and David Witcombe of Kyogle were both merchant seamen on the same ships in 1962. They connected in 2012 and became good friends.LEFT: RMS Queen Elizabeth.
NEW OLD FRIENDS: David Benge of Newcastle and David Witcombe of Kyogle were both merchant seamen on the same ships in 1962. They connected in 2012 and became good friends.LEFT: RMS Queen Elizabeth. Jacklyn Wagner

It was only when Mr Witcombe was looking through websites and came across the discharge list, where he found Mr Benge was another young man named David who was discharged around the same time he did.

 

He sent Mr Benge an email and the pair realised that while they had never met, they had trained on the same ship at the same time at the same age and had then served on another ship at the same time.

They also realised that later their careers had them in Papua New Guinea around the same time.

The coincidences, they thought, were uncanny.

"It's amazing it's taken us this long, when we were so close in several stages of our lives," Mr Witcombe said.

For both, they'll never forget the time on deck.

"It made men out of boys. The discipline and everything was infuriatingly tough and hard," Mr Benge said.

Mr Witcombe explained that over 50% of the cadets failed or left in the first two weeks of the tough three- month training course.

Mr Benge, after his time on the Vindicatrix and the Queen Elizabeth, spent another few years in the merchant navy, then in the Royal Australian Navy for 10 years, for some part working with helicopters in the Vietnam War period.

He also spent 12 months in the US Army during the Vietnam War period.

Mr Witcombe spent 12 years in the merchant navy before going on to work on commercial fishing boats.

Mr Benge and Mr Witcombe, now 66 and 67, first met in December, before meeting again this week, spending their time sharing their individual stories, which are all practically identical.

"We've got an awful lot to talk about," Mr Witcombe said.



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