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P & O's Girls at Sea

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

It has been a very sad week for old P&O seadogs. First we hear that Sue Huggins has passed away. Although l never sailed with Sue, all I hear and see is what a fun lady she was. Sue loved unusual telephones and normally had one on her desk as she moved from ship to ship.


1951 - 2021

Later in the week we hear that Dennis Morris had followed Sue. I sailed with Dennis on Island Princess in 1975. Dennis was a really nice guy and at that time sported a rather stylish mustache that he put to good use when taking part in the Barbershop Quartet on Island Princess.


1951 - 2021

After serving an apprenticeship with British Rail in Derby, Dennis joined P&O as an Assistant Electrical Officer in 1973. His first appointment was to ‘Nevasa’ and he later sailed in ‘Island Princess’, and in ‘Canberra’ as 2nd Electrical Officer, before leaving to get married and moving to California. In California, he worked at the California State University, Fullerton, remaining there until his retirement in 2013.

Dennis in the Barbershop Quartet on Island Princess 1975.

Thanks to Chris Chapman (CD) center for photograph.

Sue and Dennis both left this life last week at the age of 70, far too young. RIP

P & O's Girls at Sea

Thinking about Sue got me thinking about ladies working at sea. When I joined P&O in 1973 ladies were really discriminated against. Working in the Bureau on P&O ships they were known as Woman Assistant Pursers or WAPS. The outdated attitude of the P&O hierarchy, all men, capped their sea going careers at 40 and they could not go above the rank of Senior Woman Assistant Pursers. Often these ladies had many more skills than their male counter parts, speaking at least two languages and let’s face it the typing skills of many of the boys left a lot to be desired doing a two fingered waltz across the keyboard.

I was lucky to sail with Judy Smyth early in my life at sea. At the time she was SWAP on Oriana, l remember how efficient she was. Judy’s hobby was also travel and I remember her telling me that she had travelled overland on the Trans – Siberia railway on her recent shore leave. Remember this in the days of the USSR before the fall of the iron curtain, which presented many challenges at the time.

Judy had worked in the Bureau for fifteen years when she went head-to-head in a battle with P&O Management

Judy’s plight highlighted that opportunities for P&O’s women were severely restricted. But, by 1976, the Company was bound by equal opportunities legislation and the new Sex discrimination Act of 1975, introduced in International Women’s Year.

In a significant outcome, for both employee and employer, Judy became the first female ‘Bureau Manager’ in 1977. A triumph she topped by becoming P&O’s first Woman Purser in 1990.

My mum and stepdad decided to take a cruise to celebrate their marriage and were due to head off to Southampton to join the ship. I discovered that Judy was Purser, so I wrote to her and explained that Mum would be joining the ship and could she say hello to them. Judy invited them to a cocktail party in her cabin and gave Mum the biggest G&T she had ever had in her life, Mum never did make it to dinner that night.

Returning to my first trip to sea on Oriana in 1973/74, Gillian Angrave was SWAP at the time. I remember Gillian more for her fancy footwork on the dance floor, than her fancy finger work on the typewriter.

Gillian joined in most of the events, helping out the entertainment staff with evening entertainment as I did.

Notice Gillian is wearing the

old cap badge and shoulder epaulettes in this picture.

Gillian has recently written a book “From Oceans to Embassies”

© 2021 Gillian Angrave

You can also see all of Gillian’s interview with Susie Cox for P&O Heritage.

Here we are with other ladies from the bureau, nurses and the entertainment hostesses.

Backrow. Maggie - Eve - Gillian - Nursing Sister - Janice - Annette

Frontrow. Myself with Suzanne Jones



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What about the female Tele-Ops, I married one off the Oriana?

Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
Mar 23, 2021
Replying to

I spent a lot of time in the telephone exchange when I was duty assistant purser in the evenings. You had to keep them informed where you were in the ship. I believe there were three on Oriana but I may be wrong on that. I was tryin g to remember their names but came up blank. When was your wife on there.?


Gillian Angrave
Gillian Angrave
Mar 22, 2021

Fantastic David. Absolutely brilliant and thanks so much for highlighting we women at sea. It wasn't always easy for us, and you are right, there was discrimination against us at times, but I for one loved my time with P&O and wouldn't have missed it for the world!

My sincere condolences too for the untimely passing of Sue Huggins. We never sailed together but I understand she was great fun to be with and she played an important role in furthering women's careers at sea. RIP Sue and thank you.


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