With all the rush these days to get new tonnage into the water, the original concept and atmosphere that surrounded liners (as opposed to cruise ships) has been, sadly, lost.
For a time, many years ago, I worked in the marine operations dept of P & O in Sydney (after leaving the sea for a while). These were the autumn days of the great liner services that were the lifeline between the UK, India and Australia. By the time I got there the ships were, on the surface, looking a bit run down but that was OK because each still had a heart and personality forged in Atlantic and Pacific storms, the heat of the Indian Ocean and the long balmy days of the Mediterranean. Nights spent in the Suez Canal loop as the ‘other way’ convey appeared to sail the Sahara. The ‘Anvil’ that is, or rather was, Aden.
I think that over the years these ships absorbed some of the personalities of the people, both passengers and crew that had sailed in them. Voyages usually lasted five or six weeks and there was still time for gentle living, unhurried dinners, dancing under canvas awnings as either the ocean or a desert slipped by.
I was lucky enough to do the long haul trip UK – Australia about 15 times, some via Suez, some via South Africa and a couple the ‘other way’ around via the USA.
There was not a great deal of entertainment as such. The ship would usually have a couple of bands, a very bad comedian, some ‘over the hill singers etc. Much of the entertainment was put on by ship’s officers, Music Hall night was a highlight of the voyage. English WAPs (women assistant pursers) were not exactly first choice as showgirls but some of them brushed up very well and did their part with enthusiasm.
The Purser was the boss of passenger decks and this was never challenged - no ‘Hotel Managers’ and stuff, the line of command was Purser – 2 Deputy Pursers (admin and catering) 2 SAPs (senior assistant pursers) a whole tribe of APs (you can guess what that stands for and as general dogsbodies a couple of Cadet Pursers.
The Lord above all was the Captain; never young, these men oozed experience and competence. Many had served in the Merchant Marine and Royal Navy during WW2 (perhaps even WW1). Mainly they were exceptionally nice chaps but believe me, you didn’t cross them. He was backed up by the Staff captain (Staffy) and then a gang of deck officers in descending order.
Depending on the vessel after the two main companies (P&O and Orient) merged, the bedroom stewards, dining room stewards and public room stewards would be a mixture of British and Goenese. The engine rooms and deck would have gangs of Pakistani or Indian crewman.
The stories from those days would fill a dozen books and all, or nearly all, would evoke either laughter or tears. It was twilight time for the ships and it was twilight time for the society that spawned them. Strange, even in this forum there is no individual section for P&O, yet it was the company that kept the spirit of sea travel alive through the dark days.
Each of these magnificent ladies had a unique personality born from far voyaging - and each are sadly missed.