Thursday 27 December 2018

Pioneering waitresses afloat: new insights

Women afloat: serving at tables in the dining room of Matson's Mariposa II. Picture from Wellington Evening Post, Alexander Turnbull Libray EP/1956/2697-F.

Women, rather than men, traditionally cooked and served food in homes on land. So it’s easy to make the assumption that they would do the same for people in transit.
But public food service is about status and perks. On ships it was, and still is, a gendered matter. And for over a century women were only allowed on ships as stewardesses (room maids).

Frances Steel (pictured), who teaches Pacific History at the University of Wollongong, has just written an interesting brief history of waitresses on US ships, especially Matsons' vessels (pictured above, note women’s maid-like caps). 

Her article appears on the Australian Women’s History Network Blog, Vida: 'Waiting women: female employment on Pacific passenger liners' (4 November 4 1918): 

Reasons for women's exclusion

In the early twentieth century women were excluded from working in ship's dining rooms. My general knowledge of gendered employment practices on ships leads me to surmise that there were two explanations:

1.Shipping companies’ managers wanted to replicate the kind of fancy service delivered by hotels on land. To make voyages seem like desirable, even swanky, experiences - rather than miserable endurance feats - they employed men to serve in ship’s dining rooms.
Elite-seeming maitre d's, wine waiters, and fleets of men in immaculate black who could explain French items on the menu, conferred more distinction on the dining experience than 'girls' in frilly pinnies. Think Maxims, Paris, not Ye Olde Cottage Tearooms.
2. Men typically jockeyed with women for access to roles that brought the possible of lavish tips. Waiting at tables was the very best of these opportunities, especially when passengers were so tipsy that they didn't notice the size of the gratuity they were bestowing.
Waiters developed skilled 'performances' that enabled them to get the edge over passengers, as their historians Philip Crang, Gerald Mars and Michael Nicod show. Camp gay men on ships became especially good at being amusing as they served meals.

Patterns of pioneering

I had long known, in passing, that the US was the first English-speaking country to break through the gendered divide and allow women to become shipboard waitresses in the 1930s.
 But now Frances Steel gives the definitive US story, briefly.

 The US timeline is:
  Grace Line (in 1930s) on its Santa ships
  Nippon Yusen Kaisha (1931) on US routes, as a trial
  Matson Line (early 1950s).

 The UK timeline is:
  Buries Marks and Medomsley tramp ship companies, as a gimmick (early 1950s)
  Union Castle 'stewardettes' (1960s)
  Many companies (early 1970s), when the advent of buffet dining in shipboard cafeterias lowered the prestige attached to dining. Therefore women could be allowed into this shipboard role.
In the UK women had been allowed to be cashiers in shipboard restaurants on White Star vessels, at least to the US, from the 1920s. This history is inadvertently revealed because Blanche Tucker was feted as one of the first women to be trained to take charge of a lifeboat, in 1929. Mrs Tucker was chief restaurant cashier on the Majestic (pictured).

Blanche Tucker (far right). Picture: University of Liverpool D42 PR6.10
However, still today almost all restaurant managers on cruiseships are male. Waiting in ship's bars remained a gender-segregated job out of bounds for longer. Cunard's first female bar tender (as opposed to person circulating the room to solicit drink orders) was in 1987: Sabine Machado-Rettau. (Pictured)

Matsons in the 1950s

Frances Steel links the San Francisco company's use of 30 women on its two new transpacific liners – Mariposa II (pictured) and Monterey to post-war commercial strategy and alleged labour shortages.

 ‘The waitresses, appointed through the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union and formally rated as merchant mariners, replaced male dining room stewards.
‘The company looked to women ostensibly in response to the shortage of first-class stewards on the U.S. west coast. Even so, men continued to be hired for service in the stateroom and public room, and held all the senior positions, including head waiter.’

Commercial flying’s advent, from the 1930s, led to companies employing female flight attendants to reassure edgy first-time flyers.  The 1970s label 'trolley dollies’ minimised the extent of women's skilled emotion labour and abilities as safety professionals; it also maximised a reductive images of them as simply delivering food (graciously).  

What is this figure, a seagoing waitress?

Frances thinks that in the 1950s 'comfort – if not safety – may have played a part in Matson’s strategy. On these new transpacific ocean liners, the figure of the waitress contributed to the restored appeal of sea travel, shorn now of its wartime privations and dangers.'
She sees women on Matson's new luxury transpacific  liners as part of the company's narrative about America’s post-war ‘rediscovery’ of the Pacific, representing it as a space inviting white bourgeois relaxation, and consumer comfort and freedom.'

Frances argues that the figure of a woman waiting at tables is complex: 'in contrast to the air, where hostesses were ostensibly trained homemakers in waiting, this aspect of gendered domesticity of female employment on ships appears to have been more ambiguous.'
Also, such gendered public servers of food have to be seen in context: 'The figure of the ocean-going waitress embodied interlaced themes of post-war modernity and mobility, labour and consumption.
'This change in the working world at sea also gendered the U.S. presence in the Pacific in more layered ways, serving as a counterpoint both to the masculine deployments of the Pacific War and the sexualised fictions of Hollywood’s South Seas.'
I can’t help thinking that if Elvis Presley's Don Juan character had travelled by a Matson vessel in Blue Hawaii (1961) his ship-board steak would surely have been served up by a woman. But she’d be represented as not sexualised or glamorous enough to be girlfriend material.

Going further

 Frances Steel's blog article on shipboard waitresses goes on to detail:
  • the kind of women whom Matsons employed (not Pacific Islanders, and sometimes dental assistants and teachers)
  • passengers' responses
  • trade union opposition
  • pay
  • women's motivations and satisfactions

I do urge you to read the article in full, at 

The author can also be followed on Twitter @FrancesMSteel. 

Frances Steel's published works include:

Colonialism and Male Domestic Service across the Asia Pacific (co-authored).

Oceania under steam: Sea transport and the cultures of colonialism, c. 1870–1914.

You can read more about women in shipboard catering in my book From Cabin "Boys" to Captains: 250 years of women at sea, pp.214-218. Greta Foff Paules has written interestingly about waitresses on land in Dishing it Out: Power and Resistance Among Waitresses in a New Jersey Restaurant. 

Lesley Poling-Kempes studied US track-side women in The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West. There's also been a movie about them, starring Judy Garland. Seagoing waitresses have yet to become stars of the screen. The nearest thing in the UK is the waitress at 'Milford Junction' in Brief Encounter.

Saturday 15 December 2018

Adultery, miscegenation and lies in a naval family: black sailor John Webb 1785.

Black sailor, detail from The Death Of Nelson by Daniel Maclise.

Black sailor John Webb became the third party in the most public and virulent naval divorce story ever, in 1784-87.
   This is the first time in over two centuries that his reported experiences  have been examined.
  However, the couple for whom he worked  have been discussed in Margarette Lincoln’s Naval Wives and Mistresses, pp114-118.

In racialized London and the Medway towns John Webb’s endlessly contradictory tales about whether or not he had had sex with a naval captain’s wife – and how willingly – involved him in great trauma in the Ecclesiastical Court and Doctor’s Commons.
  The impugned wife, Ann Inglefield, fought to prove she never had such an avid connection with the black servant.
   John Webb was usually referred to as the Black Slave, the Negro, the Black servant, the Boy, or the Black. People took to him for his open, free and innocent way of talking.
   Illiterate, he signed his name with an X. No-one drew a picture of him, or of Ann.
   Born around 1767 his origin is unknown. In one of the courts he was referred to as 'the Ethiopian', for no clear reason.  
Black RN cook: RMG 127866
   John was said to have been ‘taken’ (captured) from a Flag-of-Truce Spanish ship by Captain Affleck (which could have been Edmund or his brother Philip, both of whom served in the Caribbean, which is where they could have met Webb)
   As a captive John Webb had then been given work in a naval vessel. It wasn’t unusual. Non-British men were as much as ten per cent of some crews at that time. Hands were needed and black hands were acceptable for domestic work.
Then, redundant in May 1783, Webb was found domestic work with Captain John Nicholson Inglefield (1748-1828), Commander of the guard ship Scipio at Chatham. (Pictured).
   John was paid as if he was part of the crew. Unwaged, he also worked in the Inglefield home in Singlewell, Gravesend. 
  The mistress was Ann Smith, later Inglefield (1754-1834), a Greenwich woman who’d married Inglefield ten years earlier. Their children were Mary Ann, Lucretia, Miss, and Samuel.

John Webb’s trouble
The Inglefield’s legal case focused on John Inglefield’s allegations that, over a year, Ann had been soliciting ‘indecent familiarities’ with a Black servant, and even committed adultery with him on the Scipio, thus bringing shame onto Inglewood.
  The claims and counter-claims in pamphlets and newspapers varied. And the recorded court proceedings are very confusing, not least because some evidence was not brought into court.     
   There was never a real resolution:
~ The alleged cuckolder John Webb said that he hadn’t done it, but also that Inglefield had told him to do it because he, Inglefield, wanted to watch through a spyhole. Webb claimed he hadn’t wanted Ann Inglefield’s advances, but he also boasted about what they’d done together, to another servant.
~ Ann said she’d never done anything. Her servants said so too. They swore that ‘the Black had always treated her with Respect’. There had been no ‘joking and laughing with the Black, and not any nodding and bidding him not be familiar with his Mistress.’ By contrast John Inglefield said he had proof. The servants saw their master as jealous, a blusterer and a bully.
~ John Inglefield claimed at one point he’d found Webb and Ann in bed, though most of the discussion mentioned only a kiss. He also referred to an anonymous tip-off letter, but it never appeared in court. It was proven he lied, and yet he was given custody of the children.

Pressures on every side
The court cases went on for two years. Ann sought to clear her name. Her husband fought hard to shame her, justify himself, and, seemingly get away from a marriage that wasn’t financially rewarding enough.
   In that time John Webb was under two lots of pressure. 
~ Initially this was in Chatham in the naval world. Inglefield beat him much and allegedly made him so frightened that he gave false testimony about his relations with Ann, to please his master. Naval men who worked for Inglefield corroborated the adultery story.
~ Secondly, Ann’s civilian friends and mother in Blue Stile, Greenwich worked to bring Webb to London and get him to make a true statement. They even convinced him that Inglewood would trepan him.
Greenwich, where John Webb feared he
might be trepanned by Inglewood
   Eventually Webb recanted his first claim, saying he hadn’t before realised the meaning of a legal oath. 
   He refused to give more evidence against Ann. ‘I do on my oath declare, declare that the said accusations are false, and that the said Ann Inglewood always behaved to me with the utmost decorum, nor were ever the least indecent familiarities between us.’
   In London Webb later declared ‘that the Reason he swore his Mistress ever took improper Liberties with him, or he with her, was because Captain Inglefield challenged him in the most severe Manner, and told him he had had an improper Correspondence with his Wife, and said, he had seen him kiss her, which the Deponant repeatedly denied.’
   However ‘the Captain persisted that he had seen him, damned him, and stamped with his Foot at him [Webb] in a Passion, which so alarmed him that he was frightened into a false Confession.’
   John Webb later explained ‘that he wished to ease his Conscience of the Perjury he had been guilty of, by disavowing, in a public Court, what he had before said, and thereby make every Reparation in his Power, for the Injury he had done his Mistress’.
It’s not clear whether Ann forgave him.
The aftermath
The case collapsed because, among other reasons:
  • John Inglewood could not supply any other evidence of Ann’s infidelity, and he proved to be a liar
  • John Webb contradicted himself so much that it was impossible to ascertain what had happened  
 Both Ann and John lived on for over half a century, apart.  Their son Samuel founded a naval dynasty, including Arctic explorer Admiral Sir Edward Augustus Inglefield (pictured). 
John Webb’s next steps are not known.

John Webb’s problems and pleasures
It appears that racist attitudes towards John’s colour meant that the adultery could be painted as all the more reprehensible. 
   Even Ann’s own counsel, Dr Harris, thought the adultery claim was ‘improbable to the last degree’ on the grounds that Ann wouldn’t stoop so low. He said: ‘I won’t put myself to the pain of contrasting a poor black Slave to him [Inglewood, as a paragon of gentlemanly values].’ 
   In reality, it appears that the people who know John Webb were quite happy to ignore colour. Miss, the youngest Inglefield daughter, felt very affectionate towards him.
    And he was having a regular relationship with at least one of the servants, Elizabeth Wells, and with someone called Nanny, which may have Elizabeth's other name.
 Other shipmates and servants did not shun him on racial grounds (or certainly that’s not recorded). In other words, he was integrated when among his peers.
Black sailors were routinely included in shipboard life,
as the personable John Webb would have been.

This sorry, vitriolic saga reveals, accidentally, the life of one black male sailor. Who knows how typical it is of black servants in naval households. Certainly no other case like this has come to light.
   This particular young man seemed to be someone who operated either cannily or confusedly. He was not always honest: he’d stolen and sold off Inglewood’s coat.
    What’s interesting is that the alleged offence was only once blamed on his being black. A barrister thought that being black meant someone from a country where people had hot (passionate) constitutions.
    I hope someone does a thesis or book on John and the Inglewoods. It's ideal for a study of naval family life, and of race in the Navy.

Learning more

The full stories in participants' own words can be read on line via the British Library.

Ann Inglefield:
‘The arguments of counsel in the Ecclesiastical Court, in the cause of Inglefield: with the speech of Doctor Calvert, on the twenty-second of July, 1786, at giving judgement’, London, 1787.

‘Mrs. Inglefield's Justification, containing the proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Court ... 1785, taken in short hand by W. Blanchard; with a preface and notes by Mrs. A. I.’  J. Sewell, London, 1787.

John Inglefield:
(et al) including Webb’s testimony: ‘New annals of gallantry : containing, complete collection of all the genuine letters which have passed between Captain Inglefield, and Mrs. Inglefield ; Signed with their respective Names, relative to a Charge brought by the Former against the Latter, for Partiality to her Black Servant. To Which Are Added, The Black's Affidavits, pro and con, and Mrs. Inglefield's also, upon this extraordinary Business. Likewise, The Letters of Mr. Mills, Man-Midwife, of Greenwich, relative to his Conduct since the Suspicion of this Strange Connection.’ R Randall, London, 1787.

‘Captain Inglefield's Vindication of his conduct: or, a reply to ... “Mrs. Inglefield's Justification.”  J. Murray, London, 1787.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Black seafarers in WW1. Event 24 Jan 2019

Black seafarers of the First World War. © Royal Museums Greenwich.

Here's an event (free)  that  may appeal to readers of this blog. It's happening on 24 January 2019 at the National Archives, Kew, London, UK. I've added a preface: some of the questions people ask me, as a specialist:



No, not as employees of shipping lines. 
Because it appears that stewardesses, nurses, laundresses, typists, kiosk attendants and matrons in this war were always white. It may have been possible for a mixed race laundress to slip through, as she was not in a passenger-facing job.
But Asian women were on board as passenger-workers. Ayahs sailed from India as some expat military wives returned to the UK in wartime. That is, Asian nannies worked on ships but as direct employees of the family who had already contracted them before the trip.   There were six in 1915, but none in any other month of the war. By contrast, 21 arrived in the UK in 1919. (Source: UK passenger arrivals 1878-1960.)


Undoubtedly, as well as men who had contingent sex with other men. But nobody's yet found any records, to my knowledge.


That I'm just discovering how African and Chinese men were hired to replace women in ship's laundry teams, from summer 1915 onwards. That is, lowly work usually done by white women was taken up to some extent by lowly black men. 


Apart from the pictures, which I pasted in for your interest, this is a straight lift from the site: You can book your ticket at that site via eventbrite. 


11.00: Registration with teas, coffees and resources display.

11.50: Iqbal Husain (The National Archives) welcome and housekeeping.

12.00: Professor Brad Beaven (University of Portsmouth) Port Towns and Urban Cultures and Gateways to the First World War.

12.30: Dr Antony Firth (Fjordr) Black and Asian Seafarers on England’s east coast in the First World War.

12.45: Anne Dodwell (HLF) Funding programmes now that the FWW: Then and Now grant is closed.

Rozina Visram on lascars
13:00: What’s On: Rozina Visram, author of Asians in Britain, and Dr Florian Stadler will speak about the Indian ‘lascar’ sailors. 

Dr Santanu Das will share a Bengali lascar recording from the Humboldt Sound Archive.

 The author, Steve Martin, will talk about the contribution of sailors from Africa, the Caribbean and Britain’s Black communities.
SI Martin 

Members of the Outreach Team at The National Archives will present some of the findings from their recent research on black seafarers. The talk will be accompanied by an original document display.

14:00: Lunch

Sonia Grant

14.45: Sonia Grant. African and Arab Merchant Seamen Interned in Germany during the Great War.

15:05: Asif Shakoor interviewed by Georgie Wemyss (UEL). Unearthing Invisible Seafaring Histories of Empire.
Asif Shakoor

Seafarers from many backgrounds at the Sailors' Rest in Tiger Bay, Cardiff:

15:25: Gaynor Legall. Tiger Bay and the First World War.

15:45: John O'Brien (British Library) An overview of the resources at the British Library and online, with a specific focus on the India Office Records.

16.05: Panel (Q&A) and Closing remarks.

16.30: End

Sunday 11 November 2018

WW1: remembering the women serving at sea to and from India

On this key day for remembering war's end, 11 November 100 years ago, it's good to recall the many women seafarers  who sailed. 
Yes, at least 1,700 British women were at sea in the war years. The commercial navy was not male-only.
And some 53 died at sea, about 3 per cent of all British seafaring women in that war.
They didn't look like the rosy-cheeked young stewardess in this advert. Many were over 45, even over 50. Some were mothers or motherly-looking. Many were buxom, and even tough. 
And they were white, because shipping companies thought white lady passengers would feel it appropriate that their temporary female 'servants' were not brown-skinned.


Who were these women seafarers and what was the pattern of their wartime life? 
The British India Steam Navigation Company records permit a good understanding of women in this company, which may be fairly typical of at least a score of other shipping companies. 
BISNC was the main company taking military men, their wives and children to and from India. It was one-class and seen as more friendly than P&O, which became its parent company.
 Mrs Constance Richards, was a widow of 51. She had been working for the BISNC for thirteen years, going mainly to Bombay and Calcutta. 
Like half the company's pre-war stewardesses Constance stayed on - and on - even though war increasingly made the seas dangerous. 

The general public thought the wartime ocean was not at all a suitable place for women.But these seafaring women were often responsible for keeping a whole family fed. 
They needed the wages. The company and seafaring life was their home. And perhaps they didn't want to leave their shipmates to shoulder the burden alone, or leave the company with staffing problems when men went off to war.

BISNC 's Mantola 

On 8 Feb 1917 German submarine U-31 torpedoed Constance's ship, the Mantola, off Fastnet, Ireland. It began sinking in very rough seas. All except seven Lascars managed to get into lifeboats.  
Shelling recommenced until  HMS Laburnum appeared. This naval ship tried to tow the Mantola, and failed; it was left to sink. 
All the survivors were landed at Bantry, about a hundred miles away, a day later.

It must have had a gruelling impact on Constance because the BISNC Court of Directors granted her '£42 being one year’s pay'. 
They agreed that 'owing to ill-health [she] is not likely to be again fit for service, also that she was 12 years in the service with a VG [Very Good] record.' (1) Very few women ever got such compensation. (But all were always 'VG').

SEA WOMEN AT WAR: BISNC                                      

The bigger picture of BISNC stewardesses like Constance Is that when the war started in summer 1914 the number of stewardesses nearly halved,from 48 in 1914 to just 25 in 1915.
Why? Partly because too few female passengers were sailing to justify the company paying out wages for women workers. Male stewards did the work instead, never mind propriety.
In 1916 women worked on 32 of the company's 38 voyages. Their ships were the Manora, Malda, Matiana, Mantola, Morvada, Mongara, Mandala, Merkara, Karagola, Neuralia, and Kyarra. Some did several voyages a year, despite the mines and u-boats.
In 1917 very few women were sailing, just 28. And by 1918, the last year of the war, there was just one BISNC stewardess  afloat.  
You can see from the table below that by 1917 women were sailing on only a third of the companies' voyages.

Voyages by women crew out of total voyage of BISNC ships that year


Most of those sailing in the war were stalwarts from the pre-war years.  But fresh women wanted to do such work, even though it was dangerous and despite munitions work on land paying more. 
Newcomers carried on seeking a job at sea in all the wartime years: 34 women applied in 1917 alone. 
Did they know what they'd be letting themselves in for at sea? No, only in four cases.The other 30 had no sea experience at all. This suggests that the avid potential staff might have been rather naively in search of adventure without understanding the perils.


Liners were often turned into hospital ships to bring wounded troops home. This happened in BISNC too. The story of the Rohilla disaster in 1914 appears at

Mrs Fanny Roberts of Isleworth was a stewardess on the Rewa, which became a hospital ship in late 1916. It sank in February 1918, No women aboard died. 
Age about 37 (she was creative with her birth-dates) Fanny was the only Merchant Service woman aboard her ship. With her were 20 male ward attendants, who may have been the ship's former stewards. 
After the war she stayed on until 1939, making 61 voyages.                                                            


After the war many former employees came back.  The table shows how great the increase was in 1919. 
Florence Crafter, a stewardess in 1915,  was one of those who went on to  sail for the rest of the peacetime years. Born in 1884, and from Cambridgeshire, Florence made 51 voyages from January 1920 to 1937. 
By contrast Miss Evelyn Moss, Florence's shipmate from the Mandala to Bombay in 1915 , just did two post-war voyages then left BISNC, and apparently left the sea too. 
It was always a sought-after job, with more applicants than vacancies. Usually only around ten per cent got as far the interview stage.


In other words, seafaring women were sailing the seas on passenger ships - or even just trying to - despite the wartime dangers. 
Those who did so, like Sarah Lillian Ellis (age 58) on the Manora [see below], were  awarded, like male shipmates who'd been sailing long enough, the Mercantile Marine Ribbon and Medal [pictured], plus the British Medal Ribbon and Medal. (2)


(1) National Maritime Museum archives, Court of Directors' records, 

Vol 1, 24 October 1917, p260, BIS  /1/16.


Thursday 11 October 2018

Women in Japan's navy

Japan’s female sailors serve on front line of gender equality

Reuters is currently circulating a very well-illustrated article about women in the Japanese navy.

The best picture spread I've seen is in the Guardian:

The best text is in the Japan Times yesterday.

I'm recycling most of it below, and have added in bold some of my comments comparing the UK situation.

The wonderful photos are by Kim Kyung-hoon and the reporting by Tim Kelly, aboard the MSDF ship Kaga

Women serving on Japan’s biggest warship, the Kaga, are a tight-knit group on the front line of a push to transform the Japanese navy into a mixed-gender fighting force, where men outnumber them more than 10 to one. (This is about the same as UK, 10 to 1, and women are mainly in support roles)

The Maritime Self Defense Force needs more women because falling birthrates mean it has too few men to crew warships in home waters or on helicopter carriers such as the Kaga, sailing in foreign waters to counter China’s growing regional influence. (The UK Navy too, is having trouble recruiting, which is a key reason why it has become more inclusive of women, BAME and LGBT people)

“Women all over the world are working in a wider number of areas and I think Japan needs to be a part of that,” said Petty Officer Akiko Ihara, 31, standing beside one of the helicopters she helps to maintain.

The proportion of women in the Kaga’s 450-strong crew is about 9 percent, a level Japan is targeting for the military overall by 2030 from 6 percent now. That would still fall short of the U.S., where 15 percent of people in uniform are women, and Britain with 10 percent. (The UK Navy has a a 15 per cent target by 2020)

“We all work in different teams around the ship but we are all friends,” Ihara added. “We do sometimes moan a little about our male colleagues.”

The nine-year veteran says she has encountered no workplace discrimination, and would challenge any man who thinks women are unsuited for military life to work with her.

More female recruits are making the SDF a more “rounded” organization, said Ayako Yoneda, 29, a firefighter and engineer on the Kaga.

“When I first joined nine years ago there were few women and it felt like men then didn’t know how to deal with us,” she said. “I think the men now see things more from our perspective. The SDF has become a gentler place.”

Nonetheless, the women do face sexual harassment. In July, the navy discharged a male petty officer for kissing and groping three female sailors over several months. (In the UK Navy too sexual harassment and discrimination are fiercely not tolerated, formally, now.)

Japan’s demographic woes are forcing it down a path taken years earlier by its U.S. ally, which lifted a ban on women on warships in 1993. (And the UK lifted the ban in 1990).

The MSDF, which let women crew ships a decade ago, could soon remove the last major barrier to female sailors by ending a ban on submarine duty, Defense Ministry sources have told Reuters.

Japan has one of the world’s largest navies, with 45,000 crew members on more than 100 vessels, including about 20 submarines, more than 40 destroyers and four helicopter carriers, such as the Kaga.

The Kaga was on its way to Sri Lanka after drills in the contested South China Sea as part of a two-month deployment in waters stretching from the Western Pacific to the Indian Ocean.

Commissioned in 2017, it is among a new generation of warships designed to accommodate mixed crews, with more toilets and bathrooms than older vessels.

Signs at the entrance to the women’s segregated sleeping quarters warn men to keep out. (Men bursting into women's quarters has been a perennial problem in maritime life, in merchant as well as passenger ships, and sometimes women's corridors have had armed guards). The women inside carry electronic pagers that can be contacted via numerical keypads beside the doors.

Those better facilities and privacy safeguards will draw more women to sign up, the MSDF hopes.

Japan’s navy struggles more to find recruits than the air force or army, as young people balk at the prospect of being cut off from social media networks on long deployments.

In 2016, for example, the Air Self-Defense Force received 6,900 applications, versus just 3,927 for the MSDF, even though both have about the same number of enlisted personnel.

Miku Ihara, 22, a woman cadet on the Kaga, says she reads books or studies when off-duty, but misses access to Line and Instagram. Sailors are limited to sending four text emails every day when at sea.

“You just have to get used to not having it and make the most of it when you do,” she added.

The presence of women on board has had one unexpected benefit on the men that report to him, says Command Master Chief Yasuharu Tohno, the most senior enlisted sailor on board.

“They shave regularly and iron their clothes,” said Tohno, who joined up to an all-male fleet 35 years ago. (It can't really have been unexpected, if the MSDF had researched properly. This happened in the UK Navy too, from the 1990s; warships became fragrant with deodorant and aftershave, because men wanted to attract women. There is a strict no-touching rule in UK naval ships. In Netherlands ships people forming a relationships have to tell a senior officer. Also men try harder in competence tests because they don't want to be beaten by women.)