MY wife and I have just returned from a wonderful cruise of the Adriatic.

We joined our ship, MV Oceana (built in 2000 and previously known as Ocean Princess) at the historic port of Valletta, Malta.

The last time I was in Malta was back in 1977, representing Maldon’s 1207 Squadron ATC, as a cadet Flight-Sergeant at a camp at the former RAF station Luqa (now Malta International Airport).

So even as the wheels of the 737 touched down on the runway, it was a bit of a trip down memory lane.

The luxurious liner Oceana is part of the P&O fleet, currently one of seven ships.

Originally registered as the ‘Peninsular Steam Navigation Company’, the shipping line became P&O when “Oriental” was added to the name in 1840.

The business went from strength to strength throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras, but on the verge of the Great War, having merged with ‘British India’, no less than a hundred of its ships were requisitioned to carry troops – including some of our brave lads from Maldon and Heybridge.

Many of those vessels were lost during the conflict, but the business recovered during the inter-war years.

Then in 1939 it started all over again and World War Two had an immediate, devastating effect on P&O and its operations.

Within months of the declaration, the company’s entire passenger fleet had been requisitioned. The earliest casualty was the Rawalpindi – a 16,695 tons ocean liner, built for P&O by Harland and Wolff in 1925 to carry 307 First Class and 288 Second Class passengers on the London to Bombay route.

Converted on August 26, 1939, HMS Rawalpindi, as she became known, was converted into an armed merchant cruiser and among her crew was someone who is commemorated by the clock tower memorial on today’s Plume School building in Fambridge Road.

Acting Sub-Lieutenant Anthony Driffield Seabrook, was an old Maldonian (that is, a former pupil of Maldon Grammar School), the son of Joseph Driffield Seabrook and Nora Seabrook of nearby Wycke Farm, in the village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy.

Anthony, who had trained for the Royal Naval Reserve as a boy sailor at the age of 16, along with his other crew mates, were set to work on Rawalpindi from October 1939 in the Northern Patrol, covering an area around Iceland.

On October 19 they successfully intercepted the German Tanker, Gonzenheim, but their luck ran out on November 23 when they encountered two powerful enemy battleships – the Gneisenau and the infamous Scharnhorst.

Despite being helplessly outgunned, the officer-in-charge of Rawalpindi, Captain Kennedy (the father of Ludovic Kennedy) decided to fight rather than surrender.

Incredibly they made an immediate direct hit on Scharnhorst, but it only caused minor splinter damage.

The Germans retaliated and sank the former P&O vessel within just 40 minutes.

Some 238 men went down on Rawalpindi that day – including Captain Kennedy and our own Anthony Seabrook. At least two other local men – Hector Ingate and Wilfred Pettican of Tollesbury – suffered the same fate.

Anthony Seabrook was in the prime of his life – aged only 21 and, along with the others who perished, is now remembered on the Liverpool Naval Memorial to those who fell victim to the unforgiving peril of the sea.

Meanwhile back here in the town which Anthony knew as an adolescent, whenever I walk past his old school, particularly when the clock tower shines in his (and others) remembrance, I can’t help but think of him.

Strangely, I also recall his maritime foe when I visit Maldon Cemetery – for, amongst the Commonwealth War Graves there is one to a certain Royal Marine, Arthur Ernest Wilkins, of Maldon.

Arthur was part of a contingent allocated to the legendary HMS Hood, but was invalided out of the service in 1940 due to aberrant pneumonia, died in January 1941 and his body repatriated to his home town.

His ship was, of course, destroyed by a contemporary of the Scharnhorst, the even more deadly Bismarck.

Standing on the foredeck of Oceana, my mind drifted on the waves, firstly to Maldon, then to Rawalpindi, Anthony Seabrook and the Kriegsmarine (or Nazi navy).

Overlooking calm seas, as the sun was setting on the Croatian coastline, I realised just how lucky I am (and we all are) to live in such relatively peaceful times and how experiencing a P&O liner now is so very different to that endured by our local seamen during the tumultuous days of the Second World War.