For the ships and crew which remained in the Company’s hands, there was little choice but to keep calm, carry on and maintain a near normal service. P&O had government mail contracts to fulfil and as naval and combat ships were prohibited from carrying mail, the role of the merchant mail ships was more important than ever.
With so many troops serving overseas volumes of mail increased tenfold, leaving no room for commercial or other cargo. 12 million letters were sent to the front every week and by the end of the war an estimated 2 billion letters and 114 million parcels had been delivered. Besides mail, Company ships continued to carry cargo including vital food stuffs to stock the national larder.
In spite of the war passengers continued to travel on the mail steamers, albeit in declining numbers. The company strove hard to maintain its highest standards despite the difficulties and the perilous dangers.
On the morning of 6th November 1916, the mail steamer ARABIA was torpedoed without warning with 437 passengers (169 of them were women and children) and 283 crew on board. P&O’s Chairman, Inchcape could take comfort only in the crew’s calm response to the enfolding disaster and after it was all over passengers in their hundreds wrote letters of gratitude.