Last year I posted twice about my life-long love of ships, and in the first of these blogs I mentioned building cardboard model ships.
In the gloomy and austere conditions after World War 2 every lad like me could name the pride of a country’s maritime fleet: the British Queens Mary and Elizabeth, Australia’s two aircraft carriers, the French Ile de France and Liberté and the Netherlands’ Nieuw Amsterdam. You could buy postcards and photos of these and many other ships in many newsagents, and publishers produced large build-your-own kits of the most famous of the liners on large sheets of cardboard.
For me, already at age 8 a ship-lover with a technical bent, a love of detail and too fearful and uncoordinated for team or competitive sports, these kits were just what I needed in my late primary school years. In the mid-1950s the Kelloggs breakfast cereal company ran a promotion, offering cheap and elementary cardboard kits of the Royal Australian Navy’s newly acquired carrier HMAS Sydney (complete with aircraft), as well as of the British liners Queen Mary and Oronsay. During 1957 my family spent almost five months in the Netherlands, and the kits of Dutch ships published by Veritas (“true”) helped fill the time when my brother and I were not doing our correspondence lessons or reconnecting with our family or the Netherlands with our Dutch relatives.
During that year and also in the following years back home in Australia, I assembled the printed models of many then current Dutch ships: the Netherlands Navy’s De Ruyter, Drenthe and Karel Doorman, and the Netherlands merchant ships Maasdam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Oranje, Oranje Nassau, Ouwerkerk, Prins Willem van Oranje, Rode Zee, Rotterdam, Ryndam, Statendam, Tjiwangi, Vrijburgh, Willem Ruys and Willem Barendsz. Quite a list, and many hours when I wasn’t annoying my younger sisters.
The Dutch liner Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was our family’s favourite because it had carried us across the world three times. So what I learnt from assembling the Dutch printed models I applied to building my own 1:300 scale model of the venerable Johan to give to my grandfather before we sailed again for Australia. During the later 50s and early 60s I built no less than three more versions of this ship (in various sizes), as well as models of the British submarine Andrew, the Australian Navy’s River class frigate Parramatta and their oiler Supply, and the merchant ships Canberra, Empress of Australia (1965), Galileo Galilei, Iberia, Oriana (1960), Waterman and Zonnekerk.
In the early years I tried to return to this relaxing pastime and started work on smaller scale and technically more advanced model of the Chandris liner Australis which carried my parents and youngest sister back to Oz after their leave in 1968. This model has languished in a cupboard in a half-completed state for 40 years. Maybe, now that I’m slowing down a bit, one day soon?
Although this creative hobby has long been overtaken in popularity by other and now IT-related pastimes, the cardboard models that taught me the craft are now being republished and new titles of varying difficulty are being added to the available range. It seems there are many of my generation who would like to return to model making in their autumnal years!
Of special interest to me, Scaldis Bouwplaten, a Dutch firm owned by Wim van der Meer, has republished facsimile and improved versions of many of the Veritas models I built 55 or so years ago. It has also produced higher standard cardboard model kits of a growing number of past and present Dutch vessels, including the main migrant ships of the 1950s: Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, Oranje, Sibajak, Willem Ruys and Zuiderkruis (representing the trio of Dutch Victory migrant ships).
The web tells me that there are numerous publishers of both powered and non-powered model ship drawings worldwide, and that at least Polish, German, Dutch and British publishers are currently producing kits of a long list of merchant, cruise, harbour, river and navy vessels – as well as of a large range of other objects for enthusiasts, such as aircraft, cars and military vehicles, lighthouses, notable buildings of the world, and (yes!) birds.