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We have brought together a seasonal selection of memories, in words and pictures, of “Christmas at Sea” from the P&O Heritage Collection. Browse our picture gallery below and relive the memories of three very different travellers at sea.
70 years ago the world was at war and P&O’s STRATHALLAN¹, the fifth and final addition to the ‘White Sisters’ fleet, had been requisitioned as a troop transport. In December 1940 STRATHALLAN was home to the Royal Air Force intent on enjoying Christmas at sea in spite of the war. RAF Officers on board circulated the following message to all on board:-Though we are spending this Christmas afloat, And we’re East of Suez on Musso’s Tail,Flying or grounded, friends near or remote,The Christmas spirit can still prevail,The boys from the Air Force have answered the call,A jolly good Christmas to them – one and all.”
A rather gayer affair was to be had on board CHUSAN in 1955. Writing in her diary one lady passenger recalls Christmas day in the Red Sea:“25 December - went to breakfast and found that a menu and Christmas card was placed for each person. Church service was at 10.30…after lunch walk around the dining room to see the Christmas spread, the amount of work the chef had done, there was a boar’s head, two sucking pigs, a large ham, turkey, Christmas cake, a cake made into a clock and decorations were wonderfully done. After that went up in the lift and there was a piece of mistletoe right in the centre and one of the ship’s officers was standing right under it, when it was pointed out he was in a dangerous spot he quickly moved to the side. Then we heard the Queens speech, we are two hours ahead of English time…And so to dinner. I wore my spotted cocktail dress and it was very comfortable. We had a super time, three bottles of bubbly, the Chief Radio Officer footing the bill and we wore our hats and were kicking up an awful din blowing whistles and playing the fool generally”.
For crew and servicemen alike Christmas was a time spent away from loved ones. P&O Captain D. G. O Baillie lamented in his autobiography:“Nearly everybody would prefer to be celebrating the festival in the bosom of his family. But for the merchant seaman this is a rare luxury; he is fully resigned to spending most of his christmasses at sea”.
Reflecting on one christmas on board HIMALAYA, he observed there was, nevertheless, a compensatory cause for celebration:“Albert² reports later with a satisfied grin that “everybody very pleased; everybody having very good Christmas”. But it is not only Christmas that has been celebrated; once more there has taken place a little demonstration of solidarity, a little tightening of the bond that unites so closely those who work in the Company’s service.”
Whether your Christmas be on land or sea, we wish you a most memorable one!
Notes¹ Almost exactly two years later, HMT STRATHALLAN was torpedoed by a German submarine U562 in the early hours of 21st December 1942. The story of the rescue of over 5,000 of her survivors is a truly remarkable one. Today the wreck of the STRATHALLAN lies approx 12 miles off Oran where she sank at 04.00 hours on 22nd December.² Albert Fernandes served Captain Baillie on board between the years 1949-1955. Captain Baillie was appointed Commodore of the P&O Fleet in 1953. His autobiography “A Sea Affair” was published by Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., in 1957.