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Yesterday evening I came across an interesting magazine. It’s entitled “Ships Illustrated: P&O Before the Cruise Ships”. It’s a ‘special interest’ magazine published on a single topic by the publishers of Ships Monthly magazine, and as the name suggests it’s about the ships of the generation or so before P&O’s dedicated cruise ships. So it begins with an overview of the five ‘Straths’ of the pre-war period, and then gets into the post war ships. There’s a chapter each on Himalaya (1949); Chusan (1950); Arcadia (1954); Iberia (also 1954); Chitral and Cathay (1961 – much smaller than the others and apparently bought in, not built for P&O); and finally a quick overview of Canberra (1961).

It’s lavishly illustrated – mainly in monochrome but there are some good colour pictures of the later ships, especially Iberia. There are also deck plans and descriptions of the layout of the ships, and also of the changes that they went through during their lives. In some cases these were fairly short lives as de-colonialisation and the advent of jet travel stripped away P&O’s traditional customer bases.

OK, it’s probably for completists, but I admit I’m one of these. I’ve also always thought that last generation of ‘working’ P&O liners were good looking and effective – Arcadia and Iberia look especially pretty, IMHO. Information about them has always been a bit scarce, probably because they’ve always been rather overshadowed by Canberra. And these ships had the misfortune to come into being at a time when there were dramatic changes; I’m not sure that any of those built for P&O ended up performing the same duties that it was built for.

It costs £7.95, has 98 magazine-sized pages plus covers, and just about every page is illustrated. I bought my copy from WH Smith at Meadowhall and they had several in a rack. However that’s a big shop with a lavish magazine section, and I don’t suppose that every branch will carry it, so here’s a link to the publisher’s page.

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