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P&O liner typhoid victim Stuart Balfour from Deal recalls his ordeal 50 years on

Little did Stuart Balfour know when he boarded the P&O liner Oronsay 50 years ago, that he would be subjecting himself to one of the most frightening experiences of his life.

The 20 year-old Deal lad had left school and dreamed of travelling the world as a fireman in the engine room of the vessel.

Stuart Balfour 50 years on
Stuart Balfour 50 years on

But that dream was shattered when he contracted typhoid and was forced into quarantine for five days before spending four weeks and a day in Vancouver General Hospital.

Fifty years on, he told KentOnline: “I remember every day.

“For about seven days I was just vomiting and had diarrhoea, with a temperature of 103F.

“I was in the ship’s hospital, in quarantine for five days. It was my first time away from home. It was very frightening.

"Sixty-nine of us became ill out of 200 crew. I had it so bad that my throat closed. I had injections as I couldn’t keep the antibiotics down.

Passengers boarding the P&O liner Oronsay. Picture: Google
Passengers boarding the P&O liner Oronsay. Picture: Google

“I remember being carried off the ship on a stretcher. There was a line of ambulances. I had a label on my top which said Vancouver General.

“I remember hearing them say ‘rumours of typhoid’, which it was.”

Mr Balfour, now aged 70, of Maxwell Place in Deal, joined the 28,000 ton liner on December 12, 1969, for what he thought was going to be a four-month cruise.

It was his first big cruise after a season on British Rail’s cross Channel ferry 'Shepperton'.

There was one lucky coincidence - his aunt Margaret Durie was a cardiograph operator at the hospital having emigrated from Scotland. It meant his family were kept updated of his recovery.

Basil Kidd photographed Stuart Balfour celebrating his safe arrival home after the ordeal with his mum Louise in February 1970
Basil Kidd photographed Stuart Balfour celebrating his safe arrival home after the ordeal with his mum Louise in February 1970

Information from P&O never detailed that Mr Balfour had typhoid. It was his aunt who first informed his mum he was a victim of the infectious fever via a letter.

When recovered from the illness in February 1970 he endured a 16-hour non-stop journey by car, plane and train from Vancouver General Hospital to his parents’ home in Mill Hill, Deal.

That week, he shared his story with the East Kent Mercury and was photographed by Basil Kidd.

His mother Louise Balfour, who died in September 1975, told the Mercury at the time that the contact through a family member "relieved her agony a lot".

Mr Balfour has no idea from whom or where he got the fever but it was reported in the Vancouver papers that it was one of the Goenese crew members, but he never worked alongside any Goenese.

Stuart Balfour shared his story in the East Kent Mercury in 1970
Stuart Balfour shared his story in the East Kent Mercury in 1970

He has never received compensation from the company although they did cover the cost of his healthcare bill. He feels the matter was "brushed under the carpet".

He said: “That wouldn’t happen today.

"Things weren’t so stringent back then. But I’ve had no repercussions from it.

"Every day’s a blessing."

Although aborted part way through, the trip enabled Mr Balfour to visit Cherbourg, moving South of Madeira then across the Atlantic to Bermuda.

It then stopped at Port Evergaldes, Florida, sailing to the Bahamas, then through to Panama Canal and up the West coast of North America, stopping at the Acapulco, Los Angeles and San Francisco en route before the ship reached Vancouver.

He regrets that he was never able to finish to trip which could have brought him home in time for an English summer.

Mr Balfour has since had a number of jobs including in construction and on the railway as well as his own crane hire company, but has never returned to life at sea.

He is a father of two to Jamie, 43, and Christian, 41.

A P&O Ferries spokesman said: “We sympathise with any seafarer who became seriously ill during the course of their career.

"However, the incident to which Mr Balfour refers was half a century ago, health and safety policies and procedures have been utterly transformed for the better since and the circumstances he describes would never be repeated today.”

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