We didn’t just buy this for the pun potential, honestly.

Daphne Padden menu for P&O Gala S S Empire Fowey 1959

Although that was quite a big part of why we did.  It is, of course, another lovely Daphne Padden for P&O, from the S S Empire Fowey in 1959.

Along with it came this, which is the menu for what looks like the children’s party on the same day.

P&O children's party menu S S Empire Fowey 1959

I can’t see too many modern children going for the Petit Bouchee of Sweetbreads at the start, although the jellies, celebration cake and lemonade are pretty timeless.  Sadly, this one isn’t signed, so if anyone has any ideas about who might have designed this – particularly the determined ship’s cat, do get in touch.  This may well become Small Crownfolio’s party invitation later this year.

In addition to being wonderful though, this also turns out to be a window into a bit of social history that I didn’t even know existed.  It was sold on eBay as a cruise ship menu; which it sort of is, but at the same time isn’t.

The design was certainly produced for a cruise ship – it was used on the SS Arcadia in 1957, and probably also elsewhere.  But the S S Empire Fowey wasn’t going cruising in 1959.  It was a troopship, operated by P&O but transporting British soldiers (and their families, hence the children’s menu) to postings in Cyprus, Aden and elsewhere.  Apparently there was even school provided for the children aboard, as the journeys could last up to a month.

S S Empire Fowey troopship

The Empire Fowey herself had a fascinating life – she began life as a German liner, was taken over as a troop transport and then gunship.  But in 1945, with the Allied victory, she was taken by the British as part of the war reparations, at which point she became a troop ship, but operated by P&O.  Then, in 1960, once air travel was becoming the norm for army postings, she was sold to a Pakistani cruise firm, who used her to take pilgrims to Mecca, until she was finally scrapped in 1976.

The Fowey’s odd status, half cruise ship, half transport ship explains a couple of things.  Like the fact that the menu has no printing on the back (unlike the others we have for ‘real’ cruises which have a design on the back as well).  And the way that the menu itself isn’t as lavish as I’d come to expect from P&O in the fifties.  Still, it’s rather nice to think that the army and its families got a small taste of the cruising life, even if it was just for one night only.

And f any of this has whetted your appetite for troopships, menus or even indeed sweetbreads, another near-identical set is available on eBay from the same seller.

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