The two log book entries above record a particularly interesting type of school trip: the Educational Cruise. Originally pioneered in the UK during the 1930s using troopships that were idle during the summer, it was only in 1960, when the government retired troop ships from sea that the British India Steam Navigation Company (eventually absorbed into P&O in 1971) converted one of its troopships, MS Dunera into a permanent educational cruise ship. Fitted with accommodation for pupils, teachers and independent cabin passengers, as well as classrooms, a lecture theatre and cinema, a library, and deck space for sports, the MS Dunera sailed on her first cruise from Greenock on 12th April 1961, and completed a further 14 cruises that year. The MS Devonia, SS Nevasa and SS Uganda were introduced in the years thereafter. Summer cruises were mainly to Scandinavia, the Atlantic Islands and the Western Mediterranean, while winter cruises were often in the Mediterranean – just like the log book entry from Bridgwater Girls’ Grammar School, above.
In a memoir about his career in education, Derek Esp recalls his role as a ‘cruise leader’ on a joint Somerset and Wiltshire school cruise to the Mediterranean. He notes that:
P&O offered a free place to Gill, which was accepted with the approval and encouragement of the LEA. I would be in charger of around a thousand school children under the care of their two hundred or so teachers and Gill would also help with the various visits and activities. […] P&O Educational Cruises were inspired by earlier trial cruises originating as long ago as 1932. The scheme developed in the early 196ps to provide cruises both in term time and in the school holidays. SS Uganda, on which we were to sail, took the place of earlier ships in 1967. The ship was equipped with cabins for over 300 passengers and 920 in dormitories. Some brave private passengers, heavily outnumbered by school students, also joined the cruise.Derek Esp, An Adventure in Education: The Autobiography of an Accidental Career in Education, (Troubador, 2019).