One way to take a Pacific Cruise

My first cruise was across the Pacific was on a swept up cruise liner. It presented a perfect picture when I first saw it, fully decked out in it’s Companies livery, painted white and grey, but unfortunately for passengers on this voyage, this was War Time and only minimal services were being offered. This was a far cry from the what today’s passengers expect and get. I had just completed my elementary flying course only three days earlier, and was being sent to North America to complete the rest of my training, and to gain my ‘Wings’. This was the transport being offered.


Luxury Cabins had been gutted and fitted out with tiers of steel pipe bunks, but they didn’t stop there. Further tiers of steel bunks were fitted to the open decks, and by open, I mean open to all the elements, fine in the tropics in good weather, but not so good on bad days. Passengers on days when there was cold winds off the sea, just didn’t walk the decks, we had no choice because that’s where we lived. This was to be our home for the next few weeks. We did have a roof over our head, and one side gave a wonderful uninterrupted view of the sea, a little exposed. There were thousands of troops on board, all going somewhere. So there was a huge strain on all amenities, to the extent that all water taps were under armed guard. You could drink at the fountain, but not remove any water. One group that stood out was General Chennaught’s ‘Flying Tigers’. They all were wearing the distinctive jackets with a large patch covered in Chinese writing explaining who they were, should they get shot down.


Meals were restricted to two a day on twelve hour roster, served deep in the bowels of the ship. There was plenty of food, but serving it out would have been hard, and with these conditions, the crew employed there were far from happy with their conditions. That they were working under, when taking into account, the steamy hot and muggy atmosphere. This had turned the food handlers into a team of Malcontents who seemed to delight in making life for others as difficult as they could. Meals were served to us on pressed stainless steel plates/trays each with about six indentations designed to try and keep the dessert and stew apart This was also achieved by some dexterity and skill and skilful movements. Not helped at all by the catering staff who seemed to delight slapping down the sloppy food just anywhere, and more often than not, splashing you as well. As there was no way of washing your clothes, this action was not welcomed by us at all. They were politely requested to be a little more careful. Their reply to this, was to be even more aggressive and provocative in their doling out. This turned out to be a big mistake. It angered one young Airman who could handle himself in a fight, he had had enough after being splashed yet again. He flung his plate food and all at the offender then king hit him knocking him out, and sprawling amongst the food containers. That was a signal for everyone to join in and within five minutes the messy brigade had been taught a very short sharp lesson. Of course, there was no dinner that night, but as far as the authorities were concerned nothing had happened. It was very effective as I overheard next day when order had been established again, one of the kitchen staff sending a message along the line, look out! The New Zealanders have arrived.


We had another annoying problem on the trip, we had been put under control of an officer who had no connection with us, but was travelling in the same direction. He seemed to have access to a supply of liquor, and to show his authority when drunk, he used to call parades at 2-00am for a roll call. This was a very stupid thing to do, as the deck where we were allocated our sleeping area was very dark, as the ship was carrying no lights at all. One night when the group decided they had enough, someone yelled, ‘Lets toss this problem overboard’. After a struggle he escaped to where ever he was billeted, we never saw the man again. Our records he had been carrying, just appeared and from then on we were just the same as the ship, ‘unescorted’


It wasn’t a comfortable voyage, there was no where to sit and wow betide you should you be caught sitting on your life jacket which you carried everywhere. I often dreamt of ice cream or a cold beer being served up in a glass with the condensation running off it. I swore one day I would repeat this voyage complete with all the amenities, and it would be a voyage of pleasure. Hot and Cold fresh water showers, as and when required, certainly not cold salt water ones out in the open that made soap stick to your skin.


All voyages come to an end and this one did too. We had a glimpse of San Francisco but turned away and ran down the Californian Coast. ‘Skuttle butt’ reported that this was the result of a storm, some mines had broken loose, and the Port was closed. We didn’t mind as within hours of landing we were wandering the streets of Hollywood.


More to this journey later.



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