In 1948 Billy boarded an ocean liner called The Georgic, which was owned by the Ministry of Transportation and managed by the Cunard White Star Line. This old liner had been converted into a troop ship and was bound for ancient Egypt, filled with young National Service soldiers. As the great ship sailed from Liverpool, Billy’s thoughts wandered to legendary British troops in their red tunics and white helmets embarking to fight battles in the Sudan. The Four Feathers, Lord Kitchiner and all that traditional stuff. From Billy’s prospective he was only playing soldiers and was completely unaware of the serious problems brewing at the time between Israel and the surrounding countries.
Back to reality, the ship’s loudspeaker, which reminded Billy of the offensive Irish sergeant major from Catterick, announced that they were looking for a barber and interested parties with hair cutting experience should report to the manager of the hairdressing shop – The chance of making money was not lost on the young opportunist.
“How long have you been cutting hair?” the manager asked. “About
a year” Billy replied, and indeed he had previous experience with a pair
of hand-operated clippers, cleaning up the necks of a few soldiers who neglected
to get a haircut prior to going on guard duty. “The shop charges a shilling
a haircut and you receive sixpence, payable at the end of the trip,” the
manager announced. With business matters out of the way, he was given a white
coat and escorted to the other ranks shop, where he was introduced to the regular
barber, who was an amiable young man employed by the shipping company.
The manager called one of the waiting customers to the spare barber chair, beckoning the novice to commence and stood back to observe. Nervously Billy looked down at the counter and spotted a familiar pair of hand-operated clippers. (Electric clippers had yet to be invented) He picked them up and proceeded to remove hair from the customer’s neck, with the clippings going all over the place. The manager immediately intervened, placing a sheet around the customer’s shoulders and stood back for the next show. The manager must have been satisfied, because within a few minutes he had disappeared leaving the unsuspecting customers at the mercy of the self appointed barber. For the remainder of the day, Billy sheared the customers like sheep, with extra short back and sides for the NCOs. Billy’s haircuts were so fast that his revenue exceeded those of the regular barber, pleasing the manager and annoying his associate.
After work Billy pondered the situation and realized that if he didn’t
slow down the relationship with his colleague would be uncomfortable and if
he was to further his hairdressing career, certain improvements were necessary.
The next day as he was shearing the flock, Billy was slyly observing the other
barber and in particular how he used the scissors in combination with the comb.
Before long Billy was confident enough to try it and of course made his share
of errors. These unfortunate customers also received extra short haircuts, as
a result of erasing the mistakes. Barbers have to start somewhere!
One amusing tale involved a corporal who was one of Billy’s first customers and after a number of errors; the poor man was left with very little hair on his head. The corporal didn’t complain at the time and included a tip with his payment. Later in the transit camp in Egypt, Billy was called upon to do guard duty and was disturbed when discovering the guard commander was none other than the practically bald corporal. That evening, with the ex-barber hiding in a corner of the tent with his collar turned up to avoid being identified, the corporal removed his hat and entered into a conversation with someone about being scalped by the ship’s barber. The other person sympathized and mentioned that he also received a horrible haircut on the ship. With visions of being lynched and hanging from a palm tree in the desert, the nervous one shrank considerable in size and prayed that he wouldn’t be recognized without the barbers white coat.
Another incident involved a young soldier from Billy’s hometown of Luton, who was also a victim, but in a different respect. In Billy’s infinite wisdom, this man’s hair was ideal and he reasoned that anything he did as a novice would only detract from its perfection. His beautifully manicured hair was not too long and Billy didn’t understand why he came for a haircut. The man climbed into the chair and the sheet was wrapped around his shoulders in a professional manner. “Just a trim,” exclaimed the customer and the bewildered barber reached for the tools of the trade. Making as much noise with the scissors as possible, Billy worked his way around the man’s head, lifting hair with the comb and snapping away without cutting anything. Billy even used the clippers to remove imaginary hair from his neck and just to be on the safe side, produced a mirror showing the customer his handy work. The man appeared to be pleased and left a tip. Years later in their hometown the man was talking to Billy’s sister and remarked that as a soldier on a troop ship years before, he was a customer of her brother who was a barber and swore that he gave him a haircut without cutting any hair. Billy’s sister thought the story was hilarious and laughed out loud, much to the man’s consternation.
At the end of the trip, the manager paid Billy eight pounds and together with
tips equalled about seven weeks army pay. The manager was happy and suggested
he look him up if he returned on the same ship. Billy arrived in Port Said a
comparatively wealth man.
Copyright: The Hawksford Family.