My first encounter with Leadenhall Street and the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.
I say my farewells to the new passenger liner Oriana and begin to receive my P&O Pension.
A world between the dates and the happiest of careers in a Company which became a second family. Friendships, professional satisfaction, fulfilment interest, the lot. How lucky I chose to put myself up for a seagoing career in such an iconic organisation.
My final few days at Warsash passed in a flurry of activity. Up tp London for an interview to meet Mr. Turner who headed the Department “Coal and Officers,” note the precedence of the fuel, in the labrynthine of No. 122. Passed briskly to the Medical Department and then back to Mr. Turner, who shook my hand and told me that I’d been accepted, along with six other Warsash Cadets.
P&O ships, both passenger and cargo lines, were being built with such regularity and rapidity that staff levels had to rise with equal magnitude and speed, lucky us.
Thus on 1st January 1954 it was an appointment to an Indian bound Victory ship Karmala, and my father accompanied me to the KGV docks to join her. That first voyage is now shrouded in a mist of new experiences, but I realised pretty soon that India was not necessarily my favourite destination.
Disappointment, however, didn’t last long, and on return to the Royal Group of docks some three months later I was called to the bridge by the Chief Officer to be told that I would be leaving the ship to join the brand new Arcadia just completing her maiden voyage to Australia, to serve as one of 12 cadets, the most junior for the duration of the cruising season.
To put it mildly “I fell in love,” in love with the ship, the food, the passengers and the ambience of big white liners. I never lost that desire, and even at £5 per month I was truly satisfied with life.
The pattern of my apprenticeship was thus set. Cruise ships during the northern summer season and voyages to Australia and China as Cadet Officer in the latter stages, before 2nd Mates in London.
No further interview was required when I successfully presented myself and my “ticket” in Leadenhall Street, and appointment followed appointment in an inexorable way for the next 40 years. P&O worked on the “Seniority Book System” and one’s date of joining as a 4th Officer decided by and large one’s progression through the ranks. No “cut and thrust” necessary, but it did have its disadvantages as many could testify. Promotion was slow in the early days, but it gave one a significant grounding and knowledge, not only professionally, but in the P&O ethos itself.
Friendships were long lasting, indeed many have lasted for 60 or more years, and inevitably one collected godchildren from one’s colleagues which created an even stronger bond. Thus the family feeling grew stronger as time passed.
Ships came and went, and in time the Orient Line and BISNC were subsumed and new family members entered the circle. Canberra and Oriana entered service in the early 1960s and officers and crew members intermingled, P&O men discovered “white crews” and Orient men experienced our wonderful Goanese and Indian Sailors, we knew which we preferred.
The passage of time saw many of one’s colleagues leave to take up positions in other parts of the maritime industry, pilotage, shore management, harbourmasters etc, and miraculously the time came when one realised that the “brass hat” was within one’s grasp.
I had been beguiled by an uncle during one long leave as 2nd Officer, to enter the family Stevedoring business in Rotterdam, but it didn’t take long to realise that leaving one family to join another was not my cup of tea. I far preferred human cargo to inanimate boxes of various mercantile products. The human variety had much to offer which suited my personality. I bade stevedoring farewell without any regrets.
By this time P&O had wisely “divisioned” itself into various groups and to my delight I was selected for Passengers division, just at the time that the Company made the decision to enter the cruising market “full time” with the construction of Spirit of London, the first P&O purpose built cruise liner of the era. My appointment to her was a “feather in the cap,” and after an initial period, transfer was made in turn to Island and Pacific Princess, as the success of the venture became apparent.
Appointment to Captain came in 1975, and for the next 21 years I relished the ongoing experience of command of some of the greatest liners that had ever been produced, favourite of which was, without doubt, Canberra where I served, on and off, for 17 years.
Management changes throughout the years affected many ashore, and the old style traditional shipping magnates such as Sir William Currie (BI and P&O), Sir Donald Anderson (P&O and Orient) and Lord Inchcape, gave way to a new and purposeful development, when Jeffrey, then Sir Jeffrey and subsequently Lord Sterling assumed the reins. His style was progressive and successful in beating off predatory approaches by such as Nigel Broakes of Cunard, and ensuring that modernity, in its finest form, was the watchword. No resting on laurels was to be permitted. Hence the Company went from strength to strength, culminating in the decision to order and build the most up to date purpose built states of the art lines Oriana. This far reaching development came at absolutely the correct moment as Canberra, despite her huge following of almost religiously dedicated and regular clientele, was reaching her sell by date. Sadly, it could be said she had already passed her “best before” date and needed replacement.
It was a huge financial commitment, and I was mindful, on being appointed her Captain, of my responsibility to make it a success. By dint of a superb cadre of officers in each department the ship lived up to the expectations of her, and the rest is history. Other ships followed in succession, but after my retirement, I felt comfortable, however that my own career had ended on a high.
P&O had always been thought of as being “stick in the mud” by many who were not of our number, but when the crunch came and the writing was on the wall viz a viz jumbo jets, containerisation and the like, somehow we survived, and took on a new lease of life, some would say just in the nick of time. But, whatever, I still have huge pride in seeing still, the P&O flag flying from the gigantic passenger cruise liners of today, large cross channel ferries and even the occasional lorry on our motorways.
The motto “Quis nos separabit” may not have the same meaning it once had, as Carnival Cruises and Dubai ports have intervened, but P&O still means something to me, my family, my friends and the many passengers who have sailed under the red, yellow, white and blue quartered flag.
Long may it fly upon the world’s oceans.