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volume 12
april 2009

Tony Allan's travels on the MV Peace


  Remembering the Voice of Peace (6)
by Hans Knot
  In the summer of 1972, after his hunger strike finally drew the attention of the American press, Abie Nathan at last acquired sufficient funds to equip his radio ship, the MV Peace. The first deejay to be hired while the ship was still moored in New York, was Anthony J. Smith, better known as Tony Allan. Afterwards Hans Knot interviewed the former deejay of Radio Scotland, RNI and Radio Caroline. For our series on Nathan's radio station the Voice of Peace he made this condensed version of what Allan had to tell about his adventures aboard the MV Peace till his return to the waters of the North Sea in September 1973.
1 Right: The MV Peace at sea

A danger to the health. I do recall that moment in September 1973 very well, when Tony Allan came back to the Netherlands for the first time after a very long absence. He had been away to the USA and later on to Israel. His leave from the international waters of the North Sea must have amounted to almost two years since he went away in 1972 to go help Abie Nathan with his Peace Project. Arriving at Schiphol, Amsterdam airport, Allan was picked up by Dennis King and brought directly to the Caroline House in the Van Hoogendorpstraat 16 in The Hague, where he was welcomed as a long lost son. I was happy to be there at that time, now several decades ago. In the weeks following his arrival in the Netherlands, Allan freshly wrote down his memories and was interviewed by me. Some parts of the results were published before in Monitor Magazine (1975), others in the first chapters of my book Historie van The Voice of Peace (1992).

  Allan's story started with the MV Peace moored in the in the harbour of New Jersey. At first the MV Peace had been anchored in New York near the building of the United Nations, but the ship had been obliged to leave this quayside. As Allan reported himself:
  "We were served a summons by the New York City Authorities who stated that we were a danger to the health and welfare of the citizens of New York City. I don't know why — maybe because Nathan did a fast for ten days to raise money. We called up all the TV networks — NBC were fantastic. Whenever we did interviews with radio and TV stations and with newspapers, we always said: The report is great, lovely to have you writing about us; the most important thing, however, is, please put out the address where people can send money. Obviously a lot of people would want to help, but they didn't know where to send money."
  It seems that Allan was witnessing the same phenomenon of public goodwill in New York as, earlier on, I myself had done in Groningen and Amsterdam. Nathan, indeed, had a very unusual talent to influence the press and radio and television, which got him an enormous flow of publicity, positive as well as negative — but only if Nathan wanted this.
2 Left: Tony Allan and Stuart Russell (photo: Theo Dencker)

Custom-built transmitters. NBC, as Allan told, let them slip in a request in their early-morning show:

"On television interviews in the United States you're not allowed to give the address to send money unless there's people dying. NBC had this programme in the morning called Today; it was networked right across the States and everybody watched it. Suddenly they said to us: "You've got seven minutes with a commercial break in the middle to say what you want about the station." Seven minutes is unheard of! And this chick on there, Barbara, broke in and said: "Let me stop you — where can they send money?" We got 65,000 dollars in two days. It was just what we needed."

  In the meantime Nathan had no hostel, hotel or bed and breakfast. His living quarters were on the Peace Ship and he could only be contacted indirectly by foreign people by means of addresses in Amsterdam, New York and Toronto. It was also difficult to find new people, willing to work with the Voice of Peace. Contacts were made by adds, for instance in the Toronto Star:
  "A nice guy, John Thompson, who used to work for Toronto University Radio answered on the add in the Toronto Star. To start with there was only John, Abie and myself to do all the broadcasts. We also had on board a Catholic priest, called Father Charles McTague. He was born in Canada but lived most of the time in New York. Also we had a Norwegian Captain and an English First Mate; the senior and second engineer, who were both Norwegian and didn't speak a word of English, had not been on ships before."
  Of course, the next question to come up was if the crew members who wanted to go out for the Middle East had any experience with ships. Allan himself, as a matter of fact, had made his days on radio ships like the Comet (Radio Scotland), the MEBO II (RNI) and the MV Mi Amigo (Caroline), but were the others mainly ship novices? This is what Allan remembered on that point:
  "Apart from a little Portuguese guy none of the rest of the crew had ever been on a ship in their lives. Bill Benson was on the ship the whole time when we went from New York. But he was not a transmitter engineer; Bill was the guy who put in our studios for us; he was a sound engineer. The transmitter engineer was a chap from the Philippines. He sailed with us but he had a wife and kids, so he was only with us for three months. In those three months he taught Bill all he knew about the transmitters and when he left, Bill took over from him. The two transmitters were in Collins cases but they were actually custom-built."
  The reference to the transmitters again led to another story. This one about a group of Catholic priests in California who ran an organisation for underprivileged kids and for immigrants. They made their money rebuilding equipment and that way Nathan and the Voice of Peace got their hands on their transmitters inexpensively. Allan told it this way:
  "If I own a radio station and I want to buy a new transmitter, what I do is I give my old transmitter to the Catholic Church, and I get it back on the tax. Now these priests take all these transmitters and they rebuild them. They were all qualified engineers and they put our two transmitters together for us. The two 25 kW transmitters went into a combiner into the mast, to give a 50 kW output. The mast was almost exactly the same mast as was on the MEBOII, the RNI vessel. In fact the mast that was on the Peace Ship was originally supposed to be used by RNI. It was the one that was bought to be put on the MEBO I in 1969 when the MEBO was being converted. We didn't have a proper aerial mast so Bollier and Meister gave it to us. It's a MEBO mast from their own company in Switzerland, and they flew it over to New York for us."
3 Right: The wheel on the bridge of the MV Peace

A dollar or a dime, it all adds up. Regarding the further technical equipment for the broadcast staff Allan still furnished some other details:

"There were four studios. The largest one had just really got a table in it and lots of chairs for a discussion-room, with a control room next to it. The control room was the main on-air studio as well, and had a Gates mixer in it, a big 24 channel thing, Gates turntables and Gates cartridge machines. The microphones were Electrovoice, which were very nice. We could plug them in all over the ship."

  In the Netherlands there was a special foundation where people could donate money and buy shares in the Peace Ship. But, as Allan told, there were many other countries and even companies were money and goods came from. One of those companies was Campbell Soup Company:
  "Everything was paid for, more or less, by subscriptions from all over the world — from everywhere people did sent money. Just ordinary people sent in a dollar or a dime or something, it all adds up. We got a load of food from different companies; Campbell's gave us tins and tins of soups. There was a whole bunch of tins that had been wrongly labelled, and a whole bunch of tins that didn't have any labels on at all; but we knew what they were, so that was okay."
  Finally, years after the ship was acquired, the transmitters were switched on for the first time. Tony Allan was on the ship on the moment it happened:
  "The first time we turned the transmitters on was on March 15th 1973, in New York harbour. That was about 11 o'clock at night. We were leaving the next morning, the day before St. Patrick's Day, and we got everybody off the ship. We didn't tell them why; we said like "well, we're going tomorrow, you might as well go out tonight and have a few drinks." So everybody went off the ship — and we turned on the transmitters! And they worked, so we sailed on March 16th. We started broadcasting at about 7 o'clock in the evening; we broadcast for just one evening. We came on and did station identification for about half an hour — just one of my little cassettes going around — and then we told people, who tuned in, what it was all about and where they could send money."
  Leaving the USA and going to Europe, a long trip had to be made and not always under good weather conditions as the crew on the Peace Ship soon learned. Allan again:
  "Then we went into programming. At this point we were in quite a gale. The weather forecast had been for good weather. When we got outside New York, about three or four hours out, we hit a Force 11 gale. And we sprang a leak up forward; it was a very big leak actually. Abie laid it all down, the whole rap. He'd given the address, and I came in to him while the record was playing and said: "By the way, come out here and have a look at this." It was amazing — water just pouring in. It was no problem, we just cemented it up. But Abie came on and said "Well, I don't want to alarm any of you, but I just heard while that record was on that we've sprung a leak" — and we went off the air! Our committee were all tuned in. The last thing they heard was that we'd gone off the air with this leak, so they were really all terrified. We just disappeared without trace; it was four days before anybody saw us because the weather was really so bad. All the Captain ever used to say was "it's getting better," and the weather got continually worse ... "getting better" ..."
4 Left: Recorders in the first studio

Stranger on the island. The threat to the ship was not imaginary. The Peace Ship was not the only ship in trouble in those surroundings. At the time two Norwegian ships even went down in that area and the crew of the Peace Ship participated in the search for survivors. Moreover, they had another leak to repair, this one on the inside:

"Another thing that happened to us was that we developed a leak between two tanks. Unfortunately it was between a water tank and an oil tank, so we had oil in all the water and water in all the oil. The engines kept stopping, so we really had bad problems. We decided we'd better head South; so we headed South and stopped at Bermuda for two days. We had a great time in Bermuda, really nice. It was very funny because we had arrived, and there was this local taxi-driver. He thought he'd come down and show these guys the town, make himself a few bob showing them around. So he came screaming down, he ran up the gangplank, he was a real jet black guy, and his head popped down round into the galley, the room I was in. He said: "Hey man, I've come to take you dudes out to show you de ..." Then he saw the Catholic priest, and said: "De... de... Cathedral, and de churches, and de ...!" It was beautiful, it was just like something out of a film, you know... I got ripped out of my brain in a local pub with the Chief Inspector of Police, who was an Englishman. I didn't even know who he was, I just wandered into this bar and he came and said: "You're a stranger on the island?" And I said: "Yes." He said: "You're English?" And I said: "Yes." We had a few drinks, a few more drinks, a few more drinks ... I said: "What do you do?" And he said: "I'm the Chief of Police here." A very nice guy."

  Next, the voyage of the MV Peace took the company to Madeira and further on into Cadiz:
  "At our stop at Bermuda we had some repairs done. Our generators had gone all strange at that point as well, so we flew down a guy from a generator company in Miami. He came down and fixed it. We sailed from Bermuda and we sailed across to Madeira, where we dropped Abie off. He was going to fly to Malta and we were going to take the ship in there to do the repairs. There was quite a lot wrong with the ship by that time. We had to pump out the tanks and clean out all the oil tanks and the water tanks. We would have to re-cement the insides of them. It took us longer to cross the Atlantic than Christopher Columbus! The crew by this time were pretty well pissed-off, the lot of them, including the Captain and the First Mate. Anyway, Abie left. We were supposed to sail into Cadiz and meet Abie there, so sailed into Cadiz in Spain on a Sunday morning."
  Then again the destination changed to Malaga. On this island problems arose, because, unknowingly, they had sailed behind the yacht of generalissimo Franco. Allan recalled:
  "There was a telegram from Abie waiting to say: "Don't wait for me in Cadiz, I'm not here, I'll be in Malaga." So we sailed out of Cadiz and up the coast to Malaga, which isn't all that far. What we didn't know was it was a holy festival, and General Franco was in Malaga that day presiding over this religious festival. He had been in Cadiz that morning, and our ship followed his yacht all the way up the coast. We had no idea about this, but the authorities tended to freak. They did freak, totally. There was this white boat with "Peace" written all over it, and a great radio transmitting mast on it, following Franco up the coast. So we sailed into Malaga and were promptly arrested. They let us all free, and everybody went ashore, there were just two men on board on watch. As soon as everybody was ashore, they came back, and they ripped the ship to pieces — they tore out the doors, floors, ceilings, everything. They were obviously looking for guns or drugs or both; they didn't find anything. So they said: "You must leave by midnight." I had to literally run round the town with two other guys looking for our crew. We didn't know where they were, so I just went into every bar and tried to get them. We sailed out and anchored about four miles outside Malaga, hoping that Abie would come."
5 Right: Early newsroom

Le Bateau de la Paix. The problems with the police, however, were not over yet as Nathan the next morning was arrested at his arrival. He'd flown in from Portugal and was arrested at the airport. It took hours before Allan heard something from him again:

"He had been in prison all night in Malaga. He had talked his way out of it and he came out on a boat to see us. He said "I'm going back in to arrange everything, I'll be back tomorrow at midday." The following day he didn't come by midday. At that point there was a bit of a problem on the ship. The Captain and Mate were freaking-out, and they said: "We're going." I said: "There's no need to go, we are not in any hurry, we can wait for Abie." But obviously I couldn't override the Captain, so we were in two camps and the feeling on the ship was pretty bad, tempers were running high. So they decided to sail. We sailed up to Marseille and we sat outside the harbour for an entire day. The Captain said: "We can't go in because we haven't got enough money." I said: "Worry about that when we are in there." But, oh no, he wouldn't go in. I was furious about that. We were sitting there the following morning, a really beautiful sunny day, and another boat came past with two very beautiful young girls on board. It was the tender boat that goes out and supplies all the lightships and lighthouses. The Captain was François Bonzon. His daughters had seen "Make Love Not War" on the side of the boat and they'd said: "We want to go and see what this is." So he sailed over and came on board, and brought over some bottles of wine. And he took the ship into Marseille and found us a parking spot, which he got for us for free, because he's the chief man in Marseille."

  It wouldn't be the last time Bonzon was on the ship. At arriving in Marseille the Captain of the Peace Ship decided to leave. With them half of the crew left. Soon, however a new captain was found and three weeks were spent with repairing the tanks and preparing programmes. Remarkable weeks, as Allan remembered:
  "We were without a Captain, so François chucked in his job and he joined us. He was about 45, very suave, very debonair and spoke fluent English; he really spoke it delightfully with a French accent. He set up everything. Abie joined us in Marseille the day after we arrived. We were in Marseille for three and a half weeks. We had to take all the tanks to pieces. That was hard work, actually getting down all the cement and everything. We had to actually get down there with cloths and scrape the oil off it. At that point I had to put together somehow all these programmes. What we wanted to do was play a programme which told all the history of what we had been through so far, what it was all about and where to send money. We were going to out of France, past Italy and past Greece. So I had to organise programmes in French, Italian and Greek. I don't speak a word of Greek, but that didn't matter, we found people to do it for us. It was really nice; I found two Moroccan kids that were at a naval school and they came in and recorded some little bits in Arabic for me. We had a ball in Marseille, because we were working really hard during the day, and at night we used to go out and get ripped out of our brains in all the cafes. We used to walk into the cafes and they all said: "Ah! Le Bateau de la Paix" and you wouldn't have to pay anything. They'd just said: "Oh no, no money, no money" — people took you out everywhere; it was a really remarkable three weeks."
6 Left: Abie Nathan — always in contact with everyone

Straight over to the Middle East. Around that time the Peace Ship again became a news subject for the Dutch newspapers as Nathan had found a new way of fundraising for the ship's voyage towards the Middle East. This time he didn't tell that he would sell all his personal owed paintings — as he had done earlier on in Amsterdam as well as in New York. This time he found a more special way to raise the necessary funds. This is how Allan told the story:

"During those three weeks we had to raise some money as well, but we did that okay because François is a lady's man, and Abie is a lady's man. The two of them got all the prostitutes of Marseille to donate one night's earnings to the Peace Ship, and all the girls handed over one night's money. We eventually sailed, and we stopped in Sicily for a day to look up some friends of François and then we sailed straight over to the Middle East. We got there about May 8th 1973, and anchored right off Tel Aviv. We wanted to go to Cyprus but at that time there was a lot of difficulty in Cyprus. The war hadn't started but there were signs of it and we didn't get involved with Cyprus at all. When we got to Tel Aviv, we just rang up everybody from the telephone on the ship, all of Abie's friends in Israel. They knew we were coming; the day before we arrived we were listening to the Israeli Radio and they said: "Abie Nathan's Peace Ship is coming." Just about every television station in the world came out and covered it when we got there."

  Straight after reaching Tel Aviv on May 8th 1973, the station aired various programmes in a lot of different languages:
  "We used to play "Give Peace A Chance" by John and Yoko Lennon all the time. We played Western music the most; we used to play a lot of French music, all the Arab countries speak French. We started off at midday and went through until two in the morning. Midday till six was rock'n'roll music. Then I used to do a classical programme from six to seven that would go up until the sun started to set. So I'd do about forty-five till fifty minutes of classical music, and then we would do "The Sunset." That is, three minutes before the sun was due to go down we would do a live broadcast every night from the bridge upstairs on deck. We would talk the sun down... We'd say: "Whatever you're doing now, stop, wherever you are, and look towards the west and watch the greatest free show in the world, the sunset. And whether you are in Cairo, or whether you're in Alexandria, or whether you're in Jerusalem or whether you're in Tel Aviv or whether you're in Beirut, or whether you're in Cyprus, or whether you're in Athens — just remember that all those other people in all those other places are doing the same thing, and we are all brothers together doing it." And the sun would go down. Then we'd go into our "Love and Peace" gig, two hours all of love-and-peace music up until nine. Then at nine o'clock we had an hour of Arabic; we had an Arab guy come out to do a programme for us. Ten to eleven was Hebrew."
7 Right: Tony Allan in the studio

Swimming in the nude. Abie Nathan himself presented the programme in Hebrew. Allan used to panel operate for him. Eleven to two was back to rock music, although after midnight it tended to get sweeter. Nathan also did midnight till two, in English. He used to enjoy that. Next to Allan there was yet another English-speaking person on the Peace Ship:

"Our other broadcaster was an American. He was in Israel in a kibbutz and he just came out to join us for a little while. His name was David. I don't remember his other name, we never used to use second names. Abie used to freak because I'd go swimming in the nude. I don't wear pyjamas, I never have. I'd climb out of bed in the morning, walk upstairs, no clothes on, out on the deck and over the side into the sea and go swimming — really nice. Abie used to freak; he'd say: "I wish you'd put swimming trunks on." That's because we used to have the Israeli Navy gunboats out from Ashdod, and the kids in the Israeli Army and Navy, maybe 19, 20, 21 years old, would pile into these gunboats to come out to see us, and throw us oranges and things. Abie used to say it wasn't quite the sort of thing to be done to have all these chicks going around on these gunboats watching me swimming in the nude! Once we had twenty kids on board. They were amazing; they came out and worked on the ship during the day, painting and things, and lying about in the sun. And at night they went into the studio from seven till nine and we just flipped on the mikes and let them rabbit on. There were West Bank Arabs and Israelis sitting around the one table talking. That was the way we did it: people discussing what they thought; they came up with some great ideas. All the pop stars from Israel came out and sat round a table and discussed what they thought could be done to stop the war. The jocks never used to get involved in that one. Abie mostly chaired it; I chaired a couple of them when they were in English. They were quite good; it was fun."

  Discussing these things, the question came up if there were also any listeners outside the target area. This what Allan answered, coupling the information to yet another story about a short fuelling trip of the MV Peace to Ashdod harbour in September 1973, leaving Nathan alone on a small boat in the middle of the sea. At this occasion Allan himself took leave of the station:
  "We had reception reports from India, and some from Russia; in the Central African Republic somebody picked us up, and we got a report from South Africa once. We used to have a tender come out from Ashdod, Israel. It was our own launch; we bought it and had it anchored alongside our ship. We used to go in with it every day; it only took forty-five minutes. We did actually take the ship in once, for one day; we decided we had to fill up with oil. We filled up at New York; we'd built in Christ knows how many tanks underneath especially for oil, we were a floating oil-rig when we left New York! When the ship was full of oil it had enough to last eight months. So we said: "We won't be on the air tomorrow because we won't be here, we'll be in Ashdod harbour." This was on September 12th, 1973. Me and Abie, we stayed on the ship all the time."
  "Everybody else went off, but it was difficult for me because there was nobody to replace me. But Abie was liable for the Israeli reserve army and he was a bit scared that they might call him up. So what we did was anchor our launch, put the sea anchor on it, sailed the ship in and left Abie on the launch outside in the middle of the sea. I prepared all this food for him, a monster basket full of all sorts of goodies. However, they forgot to give it to him, so he didn't really have much; he even ran out of cigarettes. We made a propaganda thing about Abie being still out there. There was no way they could arrest our ship when we took it in, because Abie was still stuck out in the middle of the sea. When we sailed in they were very polite actually; they were very nice to us and very helpful. I flew home then. Then they came out of Ashdod harbour and sailed down to the Lebanon and into Beirut harbour, and it was the first ship for twenty-five years that had sailed out of an Israeli port into an Arab port. On October 6th, the war broke out. The Voice of Peace was broadcasting during the war, but they went off the air afterwards."
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