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From Oceans to Embassies - Memoir of a P&O WAP

When I joined Oriana in November 1973 we were due to set sail on a five week voyage to Australia. Everything was new to me on joining my first ship as Junior Assistant Purser or (JAP) as we were known. It seemed that the whole ship ran on acronyms and Polari a bit like a broadcast of 'Round The Horn'. The pursers bureau consisted of JAP’S, WAP’S, AP’S, SWAP AND SAP then there were DP’S and at the top of the tree The Purser. That is before you start on all the other departments.

I soon learned the SAP (Senior assistant purser) and SWAP (Senior woman assistant purser) ran a pretty tight ship in the pursers bureau. Stuart Bennett was the SAP . Stuart’s desk and mine faced each other and whether he knew it or not he was a mentor to me in my initial few months on Oriana.

Gillian (Gill) Angrave was SWAP on that first trip and was in charge of the WAP’S (Woman assistant pursers). My first memory of Gill was working on the berthing book as passengers arrived for their voyage 'Down Under'. This rather large book contained all the cabins on the ship with the passengers' details hand-written by each entry with much rubbing out and correction. It was this book that was used in the Booking Office in London and then transferred to the ship for sailing. Remember this was before computerisation and everything was completed by hand.

I was only 19 when I joined Oriana and I always classed Gill as one of the more senior officers in the bureau. The WAP’S tended to be slightly older than the AP’S and had more experience.

I had not been in contact with Gill since she left ORIANA on returning to the UK in 1974. However she has recently written her memoirs and this prompted me to contact her and catch up on old times.

It has been wonderful reading Gill’s memoirs 'From Oceans to Embassies'. Her early life mirrors mine to some extent. We both come from working class families whose parents always wanted the best for their children and encouraged us to follow our dream. Gill and I were both dancers before we ran away to sea and it was the love of dance that threw us together on board ship.

Following Gill’s story, on her first day at school her Mum took her there pushing her sister in a battered Silver Cross pram. We had one of those, but as we got older it lost its wheels and became a bogey for my brother and me. Gill's experience of learning to drive also mirrored mine. Gill’s Dad got her started in his old Morris on Pendine Sands. In my case, my Grandmother let me loose in her Morris Minor in the school car park where she worked. For one lesson she took me over Honister Pass in the Lake District. She must have had nerves of steel.

We follow Gill’s career with P&O from her training in London to joining CANBERRA at the very last moment with no uniform. Her uniform and other belongings were shipped to Capetown, where they awaited CANBERRA's arrival, only to be sent back ashore because the baggage master was not expecting them and did not recognise the name on her bags. Thankfully they were waiting for her at the next port of call Durban.

Once on board, apart from work Gill loved getting involved in ship board entertainment. Back in the 60's and 70's, shipboard entertainment was limited: the ships' officers and crew were expected to take part in some of the evening entertainments. It was not compulsory, but the more extrovert ones amongst us loved to get into gear and hit the stage or dance floor.

Gill and I performed together on ORIANA in a routine of the Charleston.

(Gill is 3rd from left).

But my favourite photo in

is when Gill, dressed as a Suffragette, is being thrown over someone’s shoulder, all akimbo and legs in the air.

Reading Gill’s adventures at sea has brought it all back to me. I have relived many a moment whilst reading her book, especially talking about seagoing characters, the wonderful people you meet and friends you make; and calling at all the regular ports of call around the world.

Gill and I only sailed together for around six months, after which time she left the sea.

In the 1970’s Women employed at sea had to leave at the age of forty. Conditions of employment for them were not equal to men and they had no pension rights.

So Gill decided to jump ship before she was pushed and after a couple of years working back in the UK she again got itchy feet and decided to take off around the world, this time working for Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service.

When I started to read 'From Oceans to Embassies' I imagined that after the 'Oceans' bit I would skip through the 'Embassies' chapters, but this was absolutely not the case. Wow! Gill’s adventures had me hooked from beginning to end. Her first posting was to the Philistines according to her Aunty Gladys, actually The Philippines where gentle people had strange culinary tastes, such as Balut, a fertilized duck egg with the duckling half formed, which was sold warm in the evening and considered quite a delicacy. Imagine crunching through the tiny beak and claws!

Gill enjoyed her sport, especially playing golf in Manila at Wack Wack Golf Club. Her other hobbies included photography, and her book is full of interesting photographs.

I would have loved to see the photographs full size, but I guess space would not allow for this.

Gill went from happy times in The Philippines and Peru (a fantastic country but difficult Ambassador), to civil war torn Guatemala, where life was anything but rosie. In fact during her term there, Guatemala broke off diplomatic relations with Britain over the Independence of Belize, and the Consul General (it had already been downgraded from an Embassy to a Consulate-General) and his diplomatic staff were given just three days to pack up and get out of the country - in a very unpleasant manner.

It was not always plain sailing with the Ambassadors. As well as personalities to cope with, some had strange habits. I can sympathise with Gill when she came across her Ambassador in Chile who took snuff. My Grandfather took snuff and it really is a dreadful habit that those nearby have to stomach.

It didn’t take long for another of Gill’s passions to surface once again. This time she became involved in the Caledonian Society in Santiago and joined the Scottish Dancing Team.

Travel was, of course, one of Gill’s big passions, and during her postings she always made the most of getting out and about exploring the countries she was living in. I envy her trip to Machu Picchu where, having stayed overnight, she saw the sun rise over the deserted ruins. I doubt whether that is possible these days.

I also envy her gliding over the foothills of the Andes:

"Soaring over this beautiful scenery like the condors in the distance was both exhilarating and magical."

Embassy duties led her to meet Placido Domingo at the Pyramids of Teotihuacán, near Mexico City, to time spent with Timothy Dalton whilst he was filming “Licence to Kill”. On top of this, visitors to the Embassies included politicians and royalty. At one time including a private meeting with HM, not to mention David Attenborough and coming to terms with other wildlife, namely the computer mouse.

"Gill has now embarked on her third career - as Registrar of Marriages in West Sussex. Different, but equally enjoyable!

I could go on and on, but whether you are a “Seadog”, “Diplomatic Groupie” or “Intrepid Traveller” I urge you to get yourself a copy of 'From Oceans to Embassies'

and read it for yourself.

"Live your life like a butterfly. Have a rest sometimes

but always remember to fly"

Gill self-published her book, in both hardback and paperback.

Find out why Craig House Books, by reading it.

You can buy through Amazon or Waterstone’s.

But buying from Gill direct has the great advantage of being personalised.

Contact her either through

or email her on

Photographs reproduced with the kind permission of Gillian Angrave.

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