My first job: bellboy on a transatlantic liner | Nostalgia

Bellboy John Jenkins, aged 14, in 1934. He had to buy his own uniform plus three white ones.
Bellboy John Jenkins, aged 14, in 1934. He had to buy his own uniform plus three white ones.
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Last week I reviewed a new book about the 1906 White Star liner Mauretania and I asked if there were any Portsmouth-area people with links. I wasn’t really expecting a response. You might have read about John Jenkins, the Pompey stalwart and D-Day veteran who has just celebrated his 100th birthday.

Well, it turns out that in 1934 John was a bellboy on the liner, his first paid work on leaving school aged 14.

John Jenkins with his 100th  birthday card from the Queen.

John Jenkins with his 100th birthday card from the Queen.

John was born at 48, Collingwood Road, Southsea, and can remember seeing the sails of the windmill in what is now Moulin Avenue, off Wisborough Road.

His grandmother was in service to a woman who was part of the White Star shipping line.

That woman got John an interview with the company. He was taken on and his first ship was the Mauretania, a four-funnel cruise liner.

His first voyage was to New York to pick up passengers for a cruise to the West Indies. He had to buy his own uniform plus three white uniforms for hot weather.

How the other half lived, the lunch menu on board RMS Mauretania in 1934.

How the other half lived, the lunch menu on board RMS Mauretania in 1934.

He slept in what was called the Glory Hole and was woken by the ‘Peggy' (a call boy) at  5.30am and had to complete allotted cleaning duties before breakfast. One of them was opening large glass doors for passengers.

When in New York, newspapers were delivered for passengers to pick up free. They didn’t know this and John used to charge them the few cents they cost.

His earliest memory of New York was climbing the foremast of the ship to the crow’s nest for a view over the city. Another was of the Automat sandwich machines in which the buyer placed 10 cents in a slot and a sandwich of choice could be bought. 

When leaving New York John used a gong to walk around the decks calling out: ‘All visitors ashore, all visitors ashore.’

On arriving in Southampton in 1936 the Mauretania was to be taken out of service and he was drafted to RMS Alaunia, a much smaller ship. His first run with her was to Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

On returning to Portsmouth in 1938 he spotted a pretty girl in a hat shop in Lake Road. Her name was Peggy Mitchell and it was love at first sight for John. Their first date was at the Connaught Hall in Stanhope Road to watch all-in wrestling. Peggy loved it. On the bill were Bulldog Bill Laine and Whipple Bill Watson.

John never went to sea again and drove a trolleybus for two years, but as he had to work on Saturdays and therefore missed watching his beloved Pompey, he got a job in the dockyard.

After passing many exams he worked his way up to management training officer.