SS Uganda Cruise 1975
The headmaster's account
In his editorial for the 1976 issue of The Bostonian, headmaster Philip Johnston wrote: "the Head Master, helped by his wife, led a party of boys on another 'Uganda' school-ship cruise, to Greece, Egypt, the Holy Land, and eventually to Italy. Although the midnight coach-trip to Gatwick airport was something of a traveller's nightmare, the rest of the adventure was more peaceful and very memorable, and many boys returned home with more than bags of 'blessed Bethlehem earth', rich recollections of civilisations long since gone, and of The Man who turned the world upside down."
Photograph supplied by Peter Hoskins
Two latter-day crusaders recount... Uganda Cruise
It was a physically exhausted but mentally excited party that eventually arrived in Piraeus, having flown from Gatwick to Athens.
We were introduced to the Asian crew, our dormitory and the ship's officers, before attending an introductory lecture by the ship's Head Master. Discipline was not to be strict, but was to be enforced most rigorously as far as life-belts were involved. The fact that we were given life-belt drill within an hour of our boarding did not increase our faith in the ship's company.
The following day saw a guided tour of the Acropolis in the morning and an opportunity for individual exploration in the afternoon. Athens showed us that the ruins of an ancient world and the edifices of a contemporary society need not be incompatible. After another day spend in museums and the inevitable souvenir shops, we sailed from Piraeus to Alexandria.
On arrival we were greeted by natives playing Scottish jigs on authentic bag-pipes. We were grateful that an English-speaking native offered to guide us around the city. He showed us the squalor of various bazaars and the overwhelming vastness of the Abu-el-Abbas Mosque, until he brusquely demanded £3 from us, which the six of us, by now expert hagglers managed to reduce by half. It was after this incident that we were confronted by a mob of taunting, spitting, kicking Fallahin youngsters who tried vainly to snatch our watches and cameras, as well as molesting the girls.
The following day at Cairo, we saw the splendour of Tutankhamen's regalia in the Museum of Ancient Antiquities before travelling to the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. Although their magnificence could best be appreciated at a distance, their sheer magnitude could truly be realised only when directly underneath them. On the journey students were supplied with drink vouchers, exchangeable at various places. Some students obviously very thirsty, unsuccessfully offered any bit of paper they could find, relying on a high rate of native illiteracy.
From Alexandria we sailed to Haifa in Israel. Another lengthy bus journey brought us to Jerusalem, where we visited several Biblical sights and places. The glittering lights of Bethlehem, as dusk was falling, was an impressive and moving sight. Israel created a unique atmosphere that we found nowhere else.
On the following day the party went to Nazareth, Canaan, and went across the idyllic Sea of Galilee towards the Golan Heights. Our visit to the Holy Land was concluded with a tour of a 'kibbutz' - a self-sufficient community where all is shared and one has very few personal possessions.
The open, undulating landscape of Israel contrasted harshly with the sharp physical features of the volcanic island of Santorini. The summit of his island offered a panoramic view of the water-filled crater and the surrounding islands. The ubiquitous white buildings and the cobble-stoned streets, devoid of vehicles but littered with stalls selling leather goods, was a great improvement on the stench-filled alleys of Alexandria.
Two days at sea brought us to Naples, our last port of call. But we were to see very little of this city; for the main attraction was the excavated city of Pompeii, crouching below the dominating Mount Vesuvius. This visit gave us insight into the occupations, means of entertainment and worship, and the progressive nature of Roman civilization.
When students were on board there was a lively and varied social life to be enjoyed. There were regular discos in the evenings, a general knowledge quiz, a fancy dress competition, a fun-fair, and various sports, both competitive and recreational.
Thanks are due to the Head Master and his wife, as well as to the many organisers, who helped to make the trip the success it was. Good luck must be wished to those going on the cruise next year, but they can be sure of an enjoyable and memorable holiday.