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Anchors Aweigh

Before we finished our induction training at Beaufort House, we had of course to get our Merchant navy discharge book and Seaman ID.

I am not sure how much they cost us, but according to HM Gov, it now costs £55 to apply for a British seaman’s card and £55 to apply for a discharge book. If you want it quicker, it will cost you £105 for a 24-hour service. Judging by comments on Facebook these documents were often required quickly. Recruited one day and off to the docks to join a ship the next.

Looking back the monthly wage for a junior assistant purser was £152.25 a month or put more simply £38 per week.

Another requirement before taking up our first appointment at sea was to be fitted out with uniforms, blues, whites and mess kit.

P&O had recently gone from long white trousers and white jackets to the much more comfortable short sleeved white shirts and shorts.

This required a visit to Miller Rayner. Quiet a lot of uniform was required, and the bill came to quiet a hefty chunk for a Purser cadet. Thinking back, I cannot quiet remember how we paid for this, but I seem to think that we paid in instalments. One item I particularly remember was the canvas white shoes that require daily whitening, they were so uncomfortable. I did not however have to purchase patent leather evening shoes as l already had a rather comfortable worn in pair from my ballroom dancing days.

A couple of weeks later I was loaded onto a sleeper train at Oxenholme station by my Mum and Dad which three rather large suitcases and various other bags. I was off for my first five-month trip on Oriana. I remember Mum was a little emotional and Dad tried to give me some last minute advise about keeping it in my pants. I was so excited to be heading to my first ship. P&O had provided a travel warrant that was exchanged for the railway ticket. Being a sleeper train, I remember having dinner in the dining car, what a treat that has sadly disappeared from the railways. It was silver service l seem to remember another bygone memory.

Eventually I arrive in Southampton to embark on the magnificent Oriana. This was it, my new career stretching out in front of me. David Beck was crew assistant purser who l had already met on my training cruise a few weeks earlier. I was joining the shop with three other trainees from our group, two of us had been already promoted to junior assistant pursers. They must have been desperate to complete the ships company.

Having signed on we were allocated out cabins Crow’s Nest Cabin and given time to settle in we were back in the bureau.

At this stage we were not sure which job we would be allocated. One job I did not want was crew junior assistant purser, l was lucky here it was allocated to Dave Stephenson, while Steve Mann and Gareth Hopes were given currency and shore excursions. Prior to joining P&O I had always worked in hotel and catering establishments whilst a student. Catering was my first love, so l was delighted to be appointed catering assistant purser, a job l held onto for my first year at sea.

Brian Hockey was catering deputy purser who I really enjoyed working for. Having shown me the ropes he more or less left me to get on with my job. The big advantage of catering was that l was not confined to the bureau. After the restaurants, the galley and the storerooms where a whole different world, not forgetting the bakery, the dairy, the butcher’s shop, the crew galley and mess rooms. I spent many happy hours in the working bowels of Oriana.

My first couple of days were spent working with Peter the butcher and Norman Rant the storekeeper. Peter the butcher loved handling meat, he also had a very dark sun-tanned complexion, I was never sure it was sunbathing on deck or from a lamp in his cabin. On the other hand, I don’t think Norman the storekeeper had seen daylight since he joined the ship on the maiden voyage in 1960. He also took very little leave either so that he did n ot loose his position on the ship. The storerooms were certainly his kingdom. When we first met, I am sure he thought here we go again with another junior purser, here today gone tomorrow. But over the year we worked together he certainly took me under his wing and guided me through the ins and out of stock control.

We were loading provisions for our five-week trip to Sydney. The three of us checking off the goods as they arrived seeing that there were no shortages and trying to stop any pilferage as the ship was loaded. Two conveyor belts protruded from gun port doors onto the dockside and from here various roller tracks were set up inside the ship getting the goods to the storerooms at the bow of the ship. There was also a hatch that dropped goods in over the top straight into the centre of the storerooms. You needed eyes in the back of your head to make sure nothing disappeared.

Nothing was computerised in those days and all the food cost control was done by hand, in fact my hand with the help of an electric adding machine. A Kalamazoo system was operated. Sheets and sheets with every ingredient itemised. The invoices arrived on my desk and were eventually added to excising stock along with the price and every cruise the food cost per passenger per day was worked out. I cannot remember the exact allowance but occasionally the figures had to be massaged a little before they were submitted to head office.

With the ship loaded and ready to sail the passengers arrived at Southampton docks, some by car but most by boat train that pulled up alongside the terminal. Lots of baggage everywhere, we even had a car taken on board. From memory the access to the stern hold passed through the Carnival Room dance floor which was later lifted back into place. Below was a general cargo area and the baggage rooms.

Many of the passengers were leaving the UK and emigrating to Australia. That atmosphere on deck was alive with excitement as the marching brass band played the ship off the dock as the paper streamers finally parted and fluttered to the ground.

My new life at sea had begun.

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Nov 20, 2020

A very similar experience to the one I had a few years earlier. I joined in 1967 and went through the interview procedure at Beaufort House and remember Mr Atkinson well. In those days we spent a full year there before going to sea working in the different departments including the West End Booking Hall. We had German classes, Book-keeping classes and a fire fighting course at West Ham fire station. My very first weekend I was sent down to stand by on Himalaya which had just arrived at Tilbury. It was quite a shock when she started to move and I wondered where we were going but in fact we were only moving from the Passenger Landing Terminal into…

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