MY VOYAGE ON RMS ORION
Tuesday October 23rd 1956 dawned a crisp autumn day in Bromley Kent my temporary home where I had spent the past eight months.
With my trunks and large suitcases delivered to the “Orion” the previous day all that was left was last-minute packing before my friends arrived to drive me to Tilbury.
We arrived at the docks and there she was, the RMS ORION resplendent in her distinguished corn-coloured hull, white superstructure and buff funnel and the Blue Peter fluttering from her masthead.
Once on board I showed my friends my cabin then an inspection of the ship.
All too soon we heard the words boom over the loudspeakers “All Visitors Ashore”
And then, to the strains of “A life on the Ocean Waves” we slipped the mooring lines as I said my final farewell to England and Orion voyage 43 headed out to the Thames River and the English Channel
I spent the next couple of hours relaxing in the Starboard Gallery before heading to my cabin to prepare for my first evening meal and to meet my cabin companion, a delightful Egyptian guy who was traveling to Cairo with his family.
It was then back to the Lounge for some liquid refreshment to prime myself before repairing to the Dining Room to meet my fellow table guests.
Table 14 had six people, a fun-loving Australian couple, and a charming, older lady with a delightful sense of humour, a rather quiet gentleman and our table host Third Radio Officer Roger Anderson. Roger and I became great friends and I am only sorry I lost contact with him after several years of corresponding.
The next couple of days were occupied with meeting new friends whilst cruising south across the Bay of Biscay to our first port of call.
Thursday 25th October we arrive at the port of Gibraltar where Roger and I and another friend, Ramsay spent the day sightseeing and being entertained by a group of Flamenco Dancers on our return to Orion.
We slipped anchor late in the afternoon for our four day voyage to Naples where we arrived on 29th October.
Naples provided a glorious sunny day on our arrival so Roger and Ramsey joined me for a day of sightseeing.
Once again we set sail in the late afternoon for our next port of call Port Said.
By October 30th, the Suez crisis had worsened and, as we were less than 24 hours from that port Orion was ordered to divert to Malta at full speed. All night the ship vibrated from the pulsating engines as we churned through the waters of the Mediterranean.
By the morning of the 31st we were entering the safety of Valetta Harbour, Malta where we were surrounded by naval vessels, large and small cargo vessels. The P&O Liner Strathmore lay at anchor to our starboard and a UK helicopter carrier, the HMS Theseus on our port side.
Prior to our arrival an agreement had been reached that our passengers not destined for Australian ports would be transferred to Strathmore and their Australia–bound passengers transferred to Orion. Both liners would then be diverted around South Africa, the Strathmore to Asian Ports and Orion to Australia.
Meanwhile passengers were permitted to go ashore for sightseeing. Some chose the ship’s launch to ferry them back and forth while the more adventurous decided to be ferried ashore by local boatmen at 9 pence per head.
Whilst waiting for a fare some of the boatmen began diving for coins which proved very entertaining for those of us who didn’t go ashore. Unfortunately this came to an abrupt end when some of the Dining Room Stewards began throwing the silverware overboard!!!
Regrettably some of our passengers missed the last launch back to the ship and were forced to use the services of the boatmen. Once news broke there were no more launches the enterprising locals put up the fare, from 9 pence to one pound per head!!!
Once the transfer of passengers was completed and our passengers were safely back on board we weighed anchor and headed back to Gibraltar.
As there was no time to transfer passenger’s baggage at Malta this had to be carried out at Gibraltar
We then sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean and headed south for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.
Tuesday 6th November was Melbourne Cup Day so there was much excitement with we Aussies and Kiwis as to who would win the race. An official sweep was held and the celebration continued well into the night
Thursday November 8th. We arrive at the tropical port of Las Palmas where we enjoyed a delightful day of sightseeing including a warm welcome and a well-earned coffee break at the beautiful Santa Catalina Hotel.
On the way back to the ship I was “bailed up” by a street vendor who talked me into buying a small collection of Indian filigree silver jewelry. After much bargaining I found myself the owner of the collection for just a few shillings. On returning to the ship I was showing my “purchase” to friends when one asked for a closer look then asked where I bought it. This was followed by peels of laughter as my friend had the same jewelry stolen from her only a matter of minutes earlier!!! I offered to give it to her but she refused saying the story was worth a lot more to her than the jewellery!!
Friday 9th November we crossed the Equator at 7pm and as customary the day was celebrated with lunch alfresco on the pool deck ...............
We then settled in for the long haul to Capetown, South Africa.
During the next eight days we had time to swim, enjoy a variety of deck sports or simply soak up the warm sun.
By night there was The Fancy Dress Ball, the South Atlantic Race Meeting and, on one particular evening, when the band was playing in Tourist Class the entertainments officer sought the assistance of some of the crew who had formed a “Skiffle Group”.
It was their job to entertain us with suitable dance music. And so we were introduced to Rock & Roll. This was quite a novelty as Rock & Roll had only been introduced several months earlier by Bill Hailey and the Comets.
Saturday November 17th. It was late afternoon when we first sighted Table Top Mountain rising majestically above Capetown.
By six pm we had tied up and so several of us decided to take a taxi to the railway station from where we would decide what to see. The taxi driver duly delivered us at the entrance. We had no sooner entered the station when several members of the local constabulary demanded to know why we had used the “wrong” entrance. They obviously noticed our confusion and when we explained we were passengers on the Orion they told us that we had used the “Black” entrance and much to our relief ushered us through to the “White” entrance.
This fortunately was my first and only taste of apartheid.
Orion departed Capetown at 1 am the following morning for our next port of call, Fremantle on the coast of Western Australia.
Once again we were confronted with a 10-day voyage but thanks to the officers and crew there was much organized activity. Our route took us across the Southern Indian Ocean which could be very temperamental and so we were subjected to extremes of weather.
On the evening of November 21st we were invited to attend the “Seven Stars Club Dance to be held in The Restaurant on “A” deck from 11pm climaxed by a hearty breakfast at dawn. It had been particularly rough sailing during the day which hadn’t abated by 11pm however the dance went ahead to the enjoyment of all those lucky enough to have had time to book.
Around 2am, the ladies resplendent in their evening clothes and the men in their Dinner Jackets, including myself and partner, were enjoying a dance when suddenly a larger than normal wave hit us broadside sending the dancers sprawling across the floor accompanied by anything that wasn’t secured. Fortunately those still seated were able to save the alcohol!
What a site to behold!!!
Monday November 26th.
Landfall Dinner was a special occasion where we were offered
a glass of champagne together with the Company’s thanks for our understanding
during the long voyage. I must say at this juncture how much I appreciated the
great job done by the Officers and crew to ensure our voyage was not boring.
After Dinner, nightly dancing was held on B deck but this night was one of nostalgia as some passengers would be leaving us the following morning.
Tuesday November 27th we arrived at Fremantle to a tumultuous welcome by well-wishers eager to hear first hand of our voyage and glad they we had arrived in Australia unscathed. The Orion of course was the first liner to arrive in Australia after the outbreak of hostilities in Suez. The day was spent unloading cargo and sadly bidding farewell to the first of my fellow voyagers.
As with the previous days the next leg of our voyage was subject to chilly and sometimes, rough conditions making deck games quite a challenge. However our arrival at Adelaide, South Australia on November 30th was a beautiful day and, together with friends Sarah and Ramsay, I was invited to the bridge for our approach to Adelaide’s Outer Harbour.
It was then an overnight trip to Melbourne Victoria where we arrived on December 1st . Again we were greeted by a huge group of well-wishers eager to hear about our memorable voyage.
Following two days in Melbourne we set sail for our last port. Sydney, New South Wales.
Wednesday December 5th. After our fortyfour-day voyage we arrive at our destination, Sydney.
What a magnificent sight Sydney Harbour was, bathed in warm summer sunshine. Eager passengers lined the decks as we proceeded up the harbour and under Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge to our berth at Pyrmont.
Following sad farewells to my new friends and eager welcomes from my family I headed down the gangway of Orion for the last time!
My sincere thanks to Neil Priseman for his collection of wonderful photos and his memories of a truly great voyage.
Regards Steve Mulliss