31 January 2009

Rough Seas

On this day in 1950, the Queen Mary was experiencing rough seas on her way to New York. When the liner eventually arrived on February 4, she was 25 hours late, and 50 passengers had suffered injuries, three of them broken bones. Captain George E. Cove stated, "Most of the time we were coming through a whole westerly gale with heavy following seas." Despite the 55 to 75 mile-per-hour winds, the giant Cunarder herself was unscathed.  

Chicago Tribune

30 January 2009

A Symphony of Seamanship

On this day in 1955, the Queen Mary having been urgently beckoned by the S.S. Liberator, arrived at her side to take aboard two Greek seamen with possible mortal injuries. Only two lights shone from the small ship as it tossed on the stormy sea. Chief Medical Officer Joseph B. Maguire observed, "She was wallowing and rolling, exposing her red-leaded bilges, taking huge green seas over the foc's'le head which burst into a flurry of white foam along her length. We saw her dripping propeller at regular intervals, turning impotently in the air." 

No matter. In a sea boat, the ship's surgeon, Mr. A.C.K. Yates, set off in his life vest with an interpreter and a small crew, navigating the heaving water as it swelled and bottomed out dramatically. Passengers lined up along the promenade deck watched, spellbound, and Captain Sorrell [pictured], who had recently quit smoking, lit up and stubbed out enough butts to fill an ashtray. It was no simple task providing weather protection with the Mary's giant bulk while ensuring she didn't drift perilously close to the smaller craft. But he conducted, in Maguire's words, "...a symphony of seamanship on the engine-room telegraphs..." until thirty minutes later, Yates had arrived safely at the Liberator's side. That, as it turned out, had been the easy part. 

Getting aboard the freighter was far more difficult -- and dangerous. As the ladder lowered over the side of the Liberator banged against the bow, two men precariously jumped for it, one of them Yates, and found their way to the ailing sailors. The weather worsening, Sorrell's radio request that the Liberator shine lights or blow its horn when the men were safely aboard went unanswered. Finally, after much anxious waiting, the boat returned -- without patients or doctor. 

The risk of the small boat being swamped had been too great, the coxswain explained, and so they had come back. The alternative? There was none. Sorrell directed a new crew to try again. And so they did. Most of the passengers by now had given up on the whole affair and gone to bed. They would miss the grand finale. The Mary once more provided lee as the sea boat made its way to the Liberator. It would take several attempts for the patients, bandaged and covered for warmth, to be lowered safely. But on the sixth try, they were at last on their way to the Queen Mary's hospital. The sea boat, lifted on davits, found hot-water bottles and stretchers awaiting its banged-up cargo. Thanks to the Mary, her gallant officers and brave seamen, both Greek sailors survived their harrowing ordeal.

By the time the wounded were in the hospital, Captain Sorrell already was heading for Cherbourg. An extract from the Queen Mary's log that day is deceptively dispassionate:

0132 hours, stopped and removed two men to Queen Mary hospital.
0434 hours, resumed voyage to Southampton.
Weather:  fresh gale, very rough sea, heavy west-northwesterly swell, overcast and fierce rain squalls.  

A parting message from the Liberator, composed by the ship's German radioman, was sent as its savior departed: "Your trying has been admirable. Praises British Merchant Marine. Good courage. Many thanks you, doctors and crew." 

The Sea My Surgery, Joseph B. Maguire
Queen Mary, Isolation Ward Exhibit

29 January 2009

A Race against Death

On this day in 1955, the Queen Mary received word that two Greek seamen on the Panamanian freighter, S.S. Liberator, had been gravely injured and required urgent medical assistance. Dr. Joseph B. Maguire was the ship's principal medical officer at the time. In his words, "It was... a race against death... between them [they] had two concussions, one suspected skull fracture, a broken knee, two broken wrists, a broken shoulder-blade, a spinal injury and multiple bruises and lacerations. They had fallen through a hatch."

When Captain Donald Sorrell received the message, the Liberator was 323 miles away and the weather was bleak. Two other ships were closer, but neither was equipped to deal with serious injuries. With no other choice, Sorrell forged ahead at over 30 knots into what he knew would likely become a full-force gale. As she cut through ominous seas, the Mary continued to receive messages in broken English from the Liberator, none of them inspiring optimism. Below is an extract from the Queen Mary's log for that day:

Voyage #230 East
15:40 hours, received message from S.S. "Liberator" for medical assistance. [Two men fell down cargo hold, "mortally wounded"]
16:45 hours, in dead reckoning?? Lat. 48 degrees 33' N, Long 27 degrees 07' W % 077 degrees in order to rendezvous with S.S. "Liberator" 

The ship traveled throughout the night, rushing toward the freighter, which had no morphine and no stretchers. A bulletin from the captain was pinned to the notice boards, informing passengers a rescue was imminent -- though most of them already had sensed something unusual was afoot. As normal ship's activity gave way to excited commiserating, many gathered on the promenade deck to stand look-out. Meanwhile, the ocean grew more rambunctious. According to Maguire, "Captain Sorrell must have been very proud of his ship. I think we all were. There are about ten million rivets in her hull and most of them must have taken maximum strain in that drive into the heaving green wastes."

It was after one o'clock in the morning the following day when the ship arrived at the promised time, only to find a bigger challenge awaited: how to transfer two critically injured patients from the freighter to the giant ocean liner across a heaving, foaming sea. 

Read tomorrow's post for the the conclusion of the Mary's daring rescue at sea.


Queen Mary, Isolation Ward Exhibit 
The Sea My Surgery, by Dr. Joseph B. Maguire

28 January 2009

Tea with an Old Friend

Today in 1953, Winston Churchill arrived in Southampton on the Queen Mary after a holiday in Jamaica and an informal visit with Dwight D. Eisenhower, with whom he had become well acquainted during World War II. At the time of their meeting in early January, Churchill was 78-years-old and Eisenhower was less than two weeks away from being sworn in as the United States' 34th president. The prime minister arrived at the residence of Bernard Baruch, where he would stay for the entirety of his visit, just in time for tea with not only Eisenhower, but the Duke and Duchess of Windsor - two other devotees of the Queen Mary.

Prime Minister Churchill and then Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower are pictured here together in March 1945. 

Chicago Daily Tribune
The Canberra Times


27 January 2009

Beefing Up Security

On this day in 1942, the Queen Mary entered dry dock at the Boston Naval Yard, where her troop capacity was increased from 5,000 to 8,000; standee bunks were added to the promenade deck, swimming pool, and ladies' drawing room and bathroom facilities were increased. More space was also found for storing the tons of provisions required to feed the troops. 

And the ship's defenses were improved. In addition to the Vickers and Lewis machine guns and four-inch gun she'd relied on since before Pearl Harbor, ten 4o mm cannon, 24 single-barrel 20 mm cannon on steel tub-mounts, six 3-inch high/low angle guns, and four sets of 2-inch anti-aircraft rocket launchers were added to her armament. She never needed any of it, however. The Mary's greatest and best defense was her speed. And her luck, something she continues to rely upon even today.

Gray Ghost by Steve Harding

26 January 2009


After a 70 mile per hour gale left nearly a hundred passengers and crew members injured, some with broken bones and certainly all with shattered nerves, Cunard decided the time had finally arrived to modify the Queen Mary in order to reduce her characteristic shuddering in rough seas -- something that had long been a complaint of the crew who in their below-deck quarters keenly felt the ship's vibration. On January 26, 1958, she arrived at the King George V graving dock in Southampton [pictured] so that workers could install Denny-Brown stabilizers. The process took nearly 18 months, the job being finished on March 25, 1959.   

Despite the steadier Mary, some missed her more rambunctious days -- in particular a female crew member, who on one journey found herself, due to the ship's rolling, in the arms of Kirk Douglas: "Now the Queen Mary could roll," she reminisces on an audio tape at the Port Cities Southampton Website, "and then they stabilised her, and I think a lot of the fun went out of seagoing life then." 

Queen Mary by James Steele  

Topical Press Agency

25 January 2009

An Anxious Voyage

Departing Suez on this day in 1943, Commodore James Bisset undertook what was one of the most perilous journeys the Queen Mary had yet faced in her War career. Commanding a convoy that included her fellow Cunarder, the Aquitania, as well as the Ile de France, the Nieuw Amsterdam, and the Queen of Bermuda, Bisset was charged with delivering Australian troops to their home country, which was under threat of invasion by Japanese forces. 

While the Mary averaged around 25 knots during most of her military career, because she was part of a convoy, she could go only as fast as the slowest ship -- which meant she was traveling through treacherous waters at a painfully slow 15.74 knots.  Bisset knew that without her biggest asset, speed, she was a prime target for lurking u-boats, eager to not only wipe out the ship and its cargo of able-bodied soldiers, but to collect the bounty put upon her by Adolf Hitler. Fortunately, the Mary's luck held. The convoy arrived in tact three days later in Massawa, Eritrea, after traveling 1,050 miles, and the Grey Ghost would make six more stops before arriving safely home in Gourock, Scotland.

Recording the experience in his journal, Commodore Bisset wrote it was "the most anxious voyage that I made in the Queen Mary, and the biggest responsibility that I have ever had thrust upon me." 

Pictured above is an autograph he signed the previous year while visiting Blackpool, England. 

Queen Mary by James Steele
Gray Ghost by Steve Harding
© Karen Clark

24 January 2009

A Commanding Figure

On this day in 1938, Captain Robert B. Irving was made commodore of the Cunard White Star fleet. He succeeded Reginald V. Peel, who had retired in December. 

Irving's first post with Cunard, in 1904, was as fourth officer on the Verica. Nine years later, while chief officer on the Lusitania, he left to join the Royal Navy. He was serving as lieutenant-commander of the light cruiser, Yarmouth, when it narrowly missed being hit by a shell at the Battle of Jutland during World War I. After the War, he joined the Mauretania, where he was staff captain, and in 1919 was given his first command, as captain of the Venonia. He took the helm of the Queen Mary in 1936, succeeding Commodore Peel, who was ailing. Despite Peel's desire to return to his post after four months of recuperation, he ultimately retired and Irving stepped in.  

Commodore Irving was an avid tobacco user, and kept a collection of 120 pipes at his home, Castle Bonshaw Tower, in Scotland (he also kept a dozen more with him in his cabin while at sea). The New York Times described him as a "... commanding figure more than six feet tall, [with] a pleasant, breezy manner and a laugh that resounds throughout the dining room of his ship."

Given the size of the Queen Mary's dining room, it must have been a mighty big laugh.

New York Times Archive
Queen Mary by James Steele

23 January 2009

Sailing Day

On this day in 1962, a young engineer named Francis Kerr Young [pictured left with a familiar friend] got his first up-close glimpse of the Queen Mary as he prepared to board her and report for duty as a rookie engineer. It would be his job to help maintain the ship's five boiler rooms [below he's pictured in Boiler Room #4 in March, 1966], two generating rooms, two engine rooms, and all her mechanical systems. As an officer, his quarters were on an upper deck near the main mast, not far from the wardroom. He was also permitted to attend the ship's theater and use the first class swimming pool, where he one day bumped heads with the actor Donald Pleasance while each was doing the backstroke. Other luminaries Frank spotted in various parts of the ship include Robert Mitchum and John Mills (with very young daughter, Hayley), and Hermione Gringold, with whom he shook hands in the wardroom.

In his career, he logged 60 round-trip voyages -- or 420,000 miles -- plenty of time to get to know the capabilities and quirks of the stately lady in her final years. Though it sounds somewhat adventurous -- the next best thing, perhaps, to shinnying up a crow's nest and keeping look-out for pirates -- Frank's least favorite duty was climbing 70 feet up the first and second funnels to change the diaphragms on the ship's steam whistles. 

After leaving the Mary the year she retired, he went to work for a company in Labrador until his own retirement. These days, he devotes his time to writing. He has a novel, Hang on a Second!, under his belt, with another on the way. He also writes poetry and essays, including Sailing Day, which with his permission I have posted below. For anyone fascinated by the Queen Mary, these memories are priceless. 

Tuesday, January 23rd, 1962

A chilly morning breeze swept up Southampton Water into the basin where the Test and Itchen Rivers meet. Beyond Royal Pier, Southampton docks teemed with shipping. I gaped up from Ocean Terminal's dockside at a great ocean liner's bows: How could anything be so big and still float? This gigantic passenger ship was 1019 feet 6 inches long with a 118-foot beam. Her gross weight was 81,237 tons. She lay tethered to bollards by enormous hempen ropes, apparently helpless.

QUEEN MARY was delineated above this leviathan's sixteen ton anchors in black letters thirty inches high over a distance of fifty-five feet. Having just completed her annual refit her livery was freshly painted. The Mary's three funnels were bright Cunard-red with jet-black toppings which contrasted sharply with her pristine gloss-white superstructure. Her ebon hull was pierced for two thousand portholes.

The hustle-bustle of loading drew my interest. Cranes slued their slender jibs carrying netted burdens above the vessel's well deck. Everything from packing cases to cars descended like enormous spiders into the liner's forward cargo holds.

Lurching with my dunnage up the nearest gangway, I presently found myself in a long passageway on C deck. Bulkheads and deckheads had been refurbished with beige paint, a sharp contrast to the carmine deck. The alleyway was divided up into open compartments and would be independently sealed by an automatic watertight door system during emergency drills.

People scurried to-and-fro, wheeling carts, hefting burlap sacks, sides of meat, fish boxes, crates of vegetables, and myriad sundries. A great ship was victualling for a sea voyage.

I was completely lost. Passers-by continuously directed me upwards, ever upwards through seven of the vessel’s twelve decks, until I reached the engineers' quarters where the Chief Engineer's writer informed me that I had to sign on.

People helpfully steered me towards the Port Garden Lounge on Promenade deck. A queue straggled from a makeshift desk for the bureaucratic gentlemen huddled behind it. Pot plants abounded, hanging baskets sprouted cascading fronds of variegated greenery, and wicker chairs lay siege to glass topped tables with wrought iron legs. Completely immured with glass, the seaboard side gave this magnificent room a luscious tropical atmosphere.

Time shrank the queue.

"Discharge Book please," the Board of Trade official sighed up at me. He leafed through my blue linen-covered book, stamped a page, and scribbled over the violet imprint before stacking it with some others. "That'll be returned when you leave the ship. Sign here." He ordered, gesturing at a multi columned manifest.

I picked up a pen and scanned the broadsheet headed QSTS Queen Mary. Beneath this legend was a neatly compiled list of engineers' signatures, ranks, job descriptions, and salaries. At the very bottom was my name, 6th Junior 7th Engineer Officer, floater, 78 pounds /month, and a blank space awaiting my signature. I signed on.

"You're not at the bottom of the heap, y'know." The BOT man grinned, "Look at it this way - you're holding the rest up!"

The next thirty hours became a brand-new experience crammed with technical data. Raising steam boggled the mind. The Mary had five boiler rooms. The turbines steamed by the three Scotch boilers in Number One stokehold generated the vessel's hotel service lights and auxiliaries.

The other four stokeholds contained six Yarrow water-tube boilers each. When 'flashed up' and put on line, superheated steam powered the forward and after engine rooms. Both engine rooms held two main engines, each consisting of four Parsons turbines linked in parallel to a pinion gearbox connected to a long drive shaft to spin one of the quadruple propellers. At sea, these 35-ton bronze propellers would revolve at one hundred and seventy-four revolutions per minute giving an average speed of twenty-eight to thirty knots.

On Thursday morning, standby was called for the ship leaving harbour. I reported to the after engine room manoeuvring platform. Wisps of steam ballooned from the turbine glands. The bridge telegraph indicators had moved from FINISHED WITH ENGINES to STANDBY.

The Chief Engineer, in full-dress uniform, was chatting amiably with the Senior Second Engineer. Stationed by the manoeuvring wheels were the 4-8 watch engineers in readiness for the first engine movement. Attired in white boilersuits, the 8-12 watchkeepers paced the checkered plated steel manoeuvring platform like caged polar bears, ready to react any unusual response from the polished brass instruments. Nowadays all systems are computer controlled, but forty years ago, my colleagues and I have had some heart-stopping experiences during these critical manoeuvring periods.

Directed to the port manoeuvring station, I became subject to the droll humour that haunts the maritime profession. An engineer whom I'd had never met before, lounged against the port astern wheel.

"First tripper?" he asked.



"Scotsman," I corrected him.

"Tough luck!"

Before I could parry this ethnic slur, the platform second engineer ordered my antagonist topside. I studied the telegraph, nervously. A brass plate fastened to each manoeuvring wheel dictated the shaft RPM required for each movement. My reflection in the gleaming brass quadrant pondered on this dilemma: When the order came, should I answer the telegraph immediately? Or should I supply the requested speed first and then acknowledge the bridge? Perhaps I should ask the second engineer.

A loud clamour startled me as the clanging telegraph demanded the first movement: HALF ASTERN. I froze. The jangling persisted until an arm festooned with gold braid materialised above my left shoulder, and a hand on the end this bras d'or, aligned the brass handle to the green indicator.

The ringing stopped. The Chief's pudgy finger jabbed at the astern manoeuvring wheel. "Open that valve . . . NOW!"

Panic-stricken, I clutched the valve wheel rim and pulled frantically for all my worth. Nothing happened.


I heaved in the opposite direction. Nothing happened. The Chief blasphemed as he gave the wheel a quick practised jerk. The valve opened smoothly.

"KEEP OPENING IT UNTIL THAT GAUGE READS ONE HUNDRED POUNDS!" he bawled over the astern turbines' throaty whine. Opening the valve further increased the noise in volume and pitch. The engine room shuddered like forty road rollers trundling along a cobbled street. The port shaft tachometer read 80 rpm astern.

"All right . . . Keep her there lad," ordered the Chief, his voice softer with encouragement. Much, much later, I was to discover that this gentleman's aplomb became enriched with diplomacy when dining with our first-class passengers.

I risked a quick glance around the engine room. Handrails, gauges, lights and floor plates were quivering with the tremendous vibration. Great billows of steam surged from the howling turbines. The starboard engine remained at rest. I swivelled my head back, just in time to catch the next engine movement: STOP. I answered the telegraph promptly and quickly closed the astern valve. I glimpsed around, feeling quite smug now that I'd the hang of it.

"The ahead wheel mister!" called the Chief.

The puzzled look on my face brought the Chief back to my side. He eased the ahead manoeuvring wheel open. "Look," he instructed, gesturing at the tachometer. "Momentum is still spinning the turbines astern. You have to brake them by using the ahead wheel."

"Ok Chief."

The next movement commanded full astern. With immediate response I introduced steam to the turbines.

"THAT'S BETTER!" yelled the Chief.

Sound and vibration built to a crescendo until the telegraph jangled STOP minutes later. I reacted smartly and spun the astern wheel shut. Lending my full weight to the ahead wheel, I gave it a great heave. The valve spun open with sudden force. The uproar ceased quite suddenly. I gulped and hesitantly peered aft. Totally unconcerned, everybody was attending to their duties. This seemed to be the norm, except to me. Fuelled by adrenalin my heart thumped with excitement. Here I was, not yet twenty-one years of age, having the experience of a lifetime taking a major role in the operation of the famed Queen Mary!

Some time later after being relieved, I got the chance to observe our departure from Boat decks. The liner lay midstream in the River Test, just opposite Hythe with her bow pointed down Southampton Water. The tugs, released from their task, chugged jauntily back to their berths. A chocolate milkshake frothed from the massive propellers even as they barely spun.

In an hour or so, the telegraphs would ring FULL AWAY, and RMS Queen Mary would sail majestically down the Solent past the Isle of Wight on a new adventure.

Electric Scotland: Poems and Stories from Francis Kerr Young

© Francis Kerr Young

22 January 2009

A Souped-Up Ford

On this day in 1949 Captain Charles Musgrave Ford, senior captain for the Cunard White Star Line, was promoted to commodore. Ford had been a commodore in the Royal Navy during World War II, commanding the larger ships as they ferried troops back and forth from major theaters of action. When Cunard White Star resumed peacetime service, in addition to captaining the Queen Mary, he at different times helmed the Aquitania as well as the Queen Elizabeth, where he succeeded Sir James Bisset when he retired in 1947.

This photo, from the Life archives, was taken aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth in 1948.

Christian Science Monitor Archives
New York Times Archives

21 January 2009

Case Dismissed

On this day in England, 1947, the Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice found that the British Naval cruiser, Curacoa, was at fault in its collision with the troop ship, Queen Mary. The accident occurred in October, 1942, off the coast of Donegal, as the ship headed for the United Kingdom loaded with over 10,000 American G.I.s.. The Curacoa, acting as escort, cut across the Mary's bow as she followed her typical zig-zag course to avoid German u-boats. Unable to change direction in time, the giant liner cut the smaller cruiser in half. Three hundred and thirty eight men on the Curocoa perished as the ship went down. Originally it was reported that a u-boat was in the area, but this was later found to be untrue.  

The action brought by the Admiralty against the Cunard White Star Line for £1,500,000 in damages was dismissed by Sir Gonne St. Clair Pilcher, the presiding judge; additionally, he ruled that court fees were to be paid by the Admiralty. In his opinion, the Queen Mary's captain was correct to assume the cruiser would stay out of the bigger ship's way and stated that the accident was "one which ought never to have been permitted to happen."

New York Times Archive

20 January 2009

False Start

On this day in 1961, a Reuters story in the New York Times reported that two more British shipbuilders had put in a bid to build the Queen Mary's replacement, for the "stateliest ship afloat" was now in her twilight years. The company, Vickers-Armstrongs and Swan, along with another, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, intended to form a joint company, each with a half interest. Had they won the contract, the keel would have been built at Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, England, with the outfitting taking place at the Walker Naval Yard in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Little did they or the other six bidders know that the 70,000 ton ship, expected to cost £30,000,000, would never be built due to lagging passenger revenues on the transatlantic route. However, in 1965--when the original ship was projected to sail on its maiden voyage--Cunard had apparently changed its mind; in July of that year, the keel was laid down in the John Brown Shipyard, Clydebank, for the Queen Elizabeth II [pictured above]. 

New York Times Archive


19 January 2009

British Pride

On this day in 1936, the New York Times published a story on Britain's move to regain its dominance of the sea lane "between Daunt's Rock and the Ambrose Channel Lightship" -- the former being the official starting point of the westbound transatlantic passage, the latter serving as a beacon marking the main shipping channel for New  York Harbor. The Mauretania, Homeric, Majestic, and Olympic all had been retired, leaving the Queen Mary, with her impending sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth, to fulfill the hopes and restore the pride of the British nation--for Germany's Europa and Bremen, as well as France's Normandie, were faster than any ship in the Cunard White Star line. Not only that, the Germans were maintaining a weekly service to New York, while the French were taking steps to establish one as well. Emphasizing the importance of the new liner, according to the NYT, the British government had turned down another group of London's shipowners seeking money for a passenger service to New York "whose star attraction was to be a £10 fare." All resources and energy were being put into the two Queens. 

New York Times archive


18 January 2009

Queen Mary Revisited

On this day in 1982, the Granada Television production of Brideshead Revisited was released in the United States and shown on PBS. What does this have to do with the Queen Mary, you ask? Apparently the book's author, Evelyn Waugh, set the novel's ocean liner scenes on the ship (though in the recent film version the ship is shown as the Berengaria. Interestingly, one of the off-ship interiors in the movie is decorated with artwork inspired by or actually taken from the Mary:  Deer Group, by John Skeaping. In the book, The Art of the RMS Queen Mary, this artwork is listed as lost). Mr. Waugh never said outright that he was describing her, but anyone familiar with the ship would recognize his depiction, particularly of the wood, the bronze gates, and the Art Deco furniture. 

Reading the shipboard passages, it seems as if Mr. Waugh wasn't terribly bowled over by the decor of the Mary--or perhaps it's simply Charles Ryder's state of mind that gives aspects of the following passage from the novel a certain less than impressed tone:

"I turned into some of the halls of the ship, which were huge without any splendour, as though they had been designed for a railway coach and preposterously magnified. I passed through vast bronze gates whose ornament was like the trademark of a cake of soap which had been used once or twice; I trod carpets the colour of blotting paper; the painted panels of the walls were like blotting paper, too; kindergarten work in flat, drab colours; and between the walls were yards and yards of biscuit-coloured wood which no carpenter's tool had ever touched, wood that had been bent round corners, invisibly joined strip to strip, steamed and squeezed and polished; all over the blotting-paper carpet were strewn tables designed perhaps by a sanitary engineer, square blocks of stuffing, with square holes for sitting in and, upholstered, it seemed in blotting paper also; the light of the hall was suffused from scores of hollows, giving an even glow, casting no shadows--the whole place hummed from its hundred ventilators and vibrated with the turn of the great engines below."

Another distinctive bit of decor pops up a bit later:

"The great bronze doors of the lounge had torn away from their hooks and were swinging free with the roll of the ship; regularly, and, it seemed, irresistibly, first one, then the other, opened and shut; they paused at the completion of each half circle, began to move slowly and finished fast with a resounding clash. There was no real risk in passing them, except of slipping and being caught by that swift, final blow; there was ample time to walk through unhurried, but there was something forbidding in the sight of that great weight of uncontrolled metal, flapping to and fro, which might have made a timid man flinch or skip through too quickly; I rejoiced to feel Julia's hand perfectly steady on my arm and know, as I walked beside her, that she was wholly undismayed."

Of course these gates weren't in the lounge, but in the cabin class dining room. The gate pictured above is from one of the private dining rooms, off the main restaurant. However, if you visit the ship, you will see the dining salon's primary gates at the aft end of the room. 

Waugh makes other references to the ship in this chapter, not only to her well-documented pitching and rolling, but also, in the dialogue of Lady Celia Ryder, to what would seem to be the Verandah Grill: "It's crazy to go to the restaurant," she said, "and pay extra for exactly the same dinner. Only film people go there, anyway." 

The Verandah Grill, known as the Starlight Roof after 10pm, required not only reservations but a surcharge for dining. And, as Lady Celia says in the book, film people did go there, including Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Victor Mature among others. If you follow this link, you can hear one of the club's head waiters talk about what it was like, and who showed up, in 1952. 


©Karen Clark

17 January 2009

Britten Flies the Burgee

Today in 1935, the New York Times reported Sir Edgar Britten [left] would take command of the British line fleet and be made a Cunard White Star commodore at the age of 60. At that time, a year after the launch of the Queen Mary and a year before her maiden voyage (which he helmed), Sir Edgar was master of the RMS Berengaria. The paper also reported that he flew "...the burgee at the main truck of his vessel" upon his arrival in Southampton. 

New York Times Archives

From Sir Edgar's autobiography, A Million Ocean Miles

16 January 2009

Longer than the Eiffel Tower

Today in 2002, at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Saint Nazaire, France, the first steel was cut for the Queen Mary 2, the biggest passenger ship of all time. The contract, worth almost $800 million, was the biggest ever signed by the Cunard line. Though the costs of shipbuilding have obviously increased in the last 75 years, as has inflation, other things have stayed the same. Like her predecessor, the QM2 surpasses the Eiffel Tower in length, there being only 112 1/2 feet difference between the two ships. Also, their cruising speeds are exactly the same: 28.5 knots (though both have surpassed that).  

Queen Mary by James Steele

15 January 2009

Tonight Mark Brown was Drunk

More from Sergeant Hanson, continuing today in 1943 his seemingly endless journey to the Middle East aboard the Queen Mary (it's hard to fathom that after all this tedium and suffering in the heat, Sgt. Hanson and his fellow officers would have to jump into Spitfires and commence fighting a World War. Life was lived large then. Very large). 

Here is an excerpt from a somewhat less than typically monotonous day: 

We are nearing the end of our journey by sea, Aden today after only 20 days actual traveling [!], surely a remarkable trip right round Africa. 8.0am I went below & washed shirt, vest, pants, towel & pyjamas before breakfast. 8.30am land sighted, ahead to starboard. Breakfast -- sausages, terrible things & only half cooked so after one bite I gave up. Up on boat deck again to see what's happening. 9.30am anchor in Aden harbour. We are a long way from the beach proper but not far from the volcanic mountains. At 7.30am it was as hot as any English summers day although the sun had only been shining for 20 mins, but there was a breeze. Now come below where it seems cooler. From the porthole I watch the native hawkers selling their wares--lighters & money belts to the chaps aloft. Contact is made by throwing up a weighted cord & when caught hauled up & part way along the cord is a basket in which the purchaser has to put his money then the basket is pulled done [sic] by the salesman & if satisfied with the money he puts the goods in the basket & you haul up again -- money first is the stipulation...Dinner--again stew. Afternoon I spend on Boat Deck with Bob, we're both feeling the worse for the heat & lounge & read until 5.15pm when we listen to an RAF lecture on the "prevention of waste in the M.E." Blackout is at 6.15pm, the sun disappeared over the horizon at 6pm. It's a beautiful evening on Boat Deck &  Bob & I chat & stroll the whole evening except for once when we went below to have a drop of beer, American muck, & the first I've had on the ship. Tonight Mark Brown was drunk, he'd been mixing beers & whisky. It was funny for a spell but when we reached the "sickness" stage it was not so good. Incidentally having lost his RAF pullover during the course of the evening, he lost his false teeth down the pan whilst being sick. Martin slept on the floor & before we finally got off to sleep he was a sadder & wiser man. The ship moved out of Aden at about 10pm.

I'm sure Mr. Brown didn't miss his RAF pullover in all the heat. However, I do wonder how he managed to eat his half-cooked sausage the next morning at breakfast. Though he probably wasn't really in the mood for breakfast, I suppose...


Haywood Magee

14 January 2009

The Man who Made the Map

On this day in 1947, MacDonald Gill, the fellow who painted the fabulous mural of the Atlantic Ocean, entitled simply, "Decorative Map of the Atlantic," [pictured left] passed away at the age of 63. The map remains today where it was throughout the ship's career, even in wartime, on the forward bulkhead of the cabin-class dining room. Across it, a miniature crystal replica of the Queen Mary followed its route, navigating cloud and star across the ocean, from London’s venerable Big Ben to the skyscrapers of New York. This seemingly whimsical touch is one of my favorite things about the Queen Mary, though at one time it was taken so seriously by the ship's captains, they wouldn’t come down to eat unless it was functioning properly. 


13 January 2009

Monsieur Poirot et La Mary

On this day in 1991, the Agatha Christie T.V. mystery entitled, The Million Dollar Bond Robbery, was released in the United Kingdom. In it, Hercule Poirot, Belgian detective extraordinaire, accepts a case which finds him traveling on the Queen Mary's maiden voyage--something his sidekick Captain Hastings is keen to do despite Poirot's reluctance (he fears the mal de mer, though in the end it is Hastings who succumbs, blaming it on oysters).  Though the Queen Mary wasn't yet a twinkle in Cunard's eye when the original short story was published in 1925--Miss Christie places the action on two other liners, the Olympia and the Gigantic--liberties were taken for the television adaptation. Unfortunately, that's as far as the producers we willing to go in their homage to the ship. The episode wasn't filmed in Long Beach, but somewhere in England.


Photo: © Karen Clark

12 January 2009

Rolled Ox Tongue, Anyone?

Items of interest on the breakfast menu for Monday, January 12, 1959:

-Chilled Cavaillon Melon
-Stewed Figs
-Compote of Prunes
-Oatmeal Porridge
-Onion Soup Gratinee
-Kippered Herrings
-Jelly and Parmentier   Omelette
-Minced Chicken on Waffle
-Rolled Ox Tongue
-Currant Scones
-Ceylon Tea
-Horlick's Malted Milk
*Passengers on Special Diet are especially invited to make known their requirements to the Head Waiter.

Please email me if you know what Bemax is. Or if you've ever actually eaten a Jelly and Parmentier Omelet. Seriously, I'm interested.

Queen Mary by James Steele 

11 January 2009

Let the Sweat Run

On this day, a Sunday in 1943, enduring Africa-hot temperatures as the Queen Mary races toward the Equator, avoiding German u-boats and surface raiders, RAF Sergeant Hansonrecords in his clandestine journal:

Very little sleep between Midt & 3.30am when I get up again for duty, its far too hot. It seems to me that to endure the heat of the tropics one must be able to relax completely & I'm beginning to acquire the art, you just let the sweat run & on no account worry about it. 4.0am--6.0am duty, read a good part of Kippo. 6.0am shave, have an early breakfast & go up on boat deck where at 6.30am I find it warm wearing only shorts, just getting comfortable when they start swabbing down the decks so there is no alternative but to go down below. At 6.0am we passed within sight of Mauritius, so we're yet about 20 degrees S. of the equator still about 2000 miles before we get to Aden & about 3000 miles more to what I think our destination. Only about another week & with luck we'll be putting our feet on dry land again. We all seem to think we're going to Cairo & that when we get there we'll be given 7 days leave. Out of bed 9.15am into bath, then duty. Stew for dinner, & rice. Then up to prom deck forward to finish "Kippo", afterwards another rest in bunk before duty 3.45pm. Tea at 6.0pm then I heard that Peter Flux had been looking for me & that morse practice was going on on Prom Deck aft so I dashed up there & found three oscillators in use. I managed to get a turn & was complimented by the officer i/c for some good sending. There is another class on Wed, I must go along. A walk on the deck with Lionel & Cryil & then below to get this story of my adventures up-to-date. Its terribly hot below & half the chaps in the cabins are preparing to sleep on the open boat deck. I decide that I will sleep below as usual, the air should be fresher with half the chaps away. I cannot settle to anything this evening its so hot. I think probably we have caught up with the sun again & we won't get it much hotter than this although of course the advantage at the moment is that we are on a ship at sea and therefore there is a continual circulation of air. What it must be like on land say in Madagascar at the moment I cannot conceive. I decide to have another bath and then got to bed. I'm jumpy tonight & sleep is not easy.

I'd really like to read this "Kippo" the sergeant keeps mentioning, but can't find it anywhere. I did however find the word in an online dictionary--apparently it refers to a "wiggo with a speech impediment." As for wiggo, I can find no satisfactory explanation, only that it refers to one who has sexual relations with zombies. No wonder Sergeant Hanson was so keen to read it. 

10 January 2009

1,000 Men

Today in 1938, the Queen Mary was drydocked in Southampton, where 1,000 men were at work scraping her hull, tuning up her engines, and giving her funnels a fresh coat of Cunard red (which is actually a sort of orange shade, originally consisting of bright ochre and buttermilk that "cooked" onto the smokestacks--though this process was no longer necessary by the time the Mary was launched, the resulting signature color remains). Despite the tremendous manpower, the ship's refitting would take two weeks to complete. 

A free preview of the original newsreel is available at British Pathe (with registration). 

British Pathe

09 January 2009

Battleships with Cyril

Another entry from Sgt. Hanson of the RAF, dated January 9, 1943, as he continued to keep his clandestine diary aboard the Queen Mary, now a troop ship ferrying soldiers from Australia to the Middle East:

Breakfast not good this morning up on deck until 11:30am & play Battleships with Cyril. It's a trifle breezy so go below. Cripps has lent me "Kippo" , I remember I saw the film. Dinner today was terrible, salt beef, potatoes, carrots, no vitamins in any of it & catseyes (tapioca) to follow. At 2.30pm we have our first pay parade since being on board & the first pay I've received since Compton Bassett. For the past week I've been broke, started Sunday with 9 1/4d & for the past three or four days I have had only the farthing. I owe Lionel 5/- [five shillings] -- 2/6 for EMF telegram & 2/6 for sunspecs so that we leave [sic] me 5/-. I buy some cigarettes & chocolate & I'm left again with 1/10 1/4d [one shilling and 10 pence farthing]. After pay parade I decide to dress in home scale blue as its quite chilly. We've been going E.S.E. since leaving Capetown and its been gradually getting cooler. The tea today was worse than ever, some sort of polony, how the Americans put up with such stuff as spam and Frankfurter sausages beats me, unless the stuff we get is for export only [ha!]. Up on boat deck again after tea, blackout is at 7.20pm & some piecans are smoking after blackout time so the order is given to clear decks. That's the trouble if one person misbehaves everyone must suffer. I play two more games, this time with Keith Greenshields & turn in for a read & an early night.

piecan: idiot
polony: bologna
"Kippo": I have no idea but I assume it's a book 

08 January 2009

Here He Comes Again...

On this day in 1953, Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, boards the Queen Mary and sets off for yet another trip to the States, almost exactly a year since his previous visit. One of his stops this time was a meeting with, among others, Secretary of State Dean Acheson (pictured here shaking hands with Churchill) and Averell Harriman of the Mutual Security Agency (to Acheson's right).

Data source: 
National Archives

07 January 2009

Sgt. Hanson's Clandestine Journal

In 1942, Sergeant Gerald Edward Hanson of the Royal Air Force (RAF) kept a journal as he journeyed on board the Queen Mary from Greenock, Scotland to the Middle East. As secrecy was strictly enforced, this wasn't allowed, but he managed it by writing 1,600 words to a page on both sides of the paper. The diary was only four pages long, but it covered a little over a month, from December 21 to January 25. It's a fascinating record, even in its mundane aspects, of a tense time for England and the world--a time in which the Queen Mary played an invaluable role as a troopship. 

The officers on board were given various duties, mostly involving controlling the movements of enlisted men throughout the ship (which was carrying an astonishing 10,669 troops--her peacetime capacity was only 1,957 passengers). When they weren't on duty, they passed the time sleeping, playing games, and in Sgt. Hanson's case, writing a clandestine diary. On this day in 1943, as the ship rounded the southern side of Africa, he wrote: 

"Awake this morning 5:30am, jump into lukewarm bath & then back into bed again. The ship is tossing a little but not so much as I had expected. Up on boat deck after breakfast & during boat drill it was very chilly indeed but the suns rays are warm. Soon after 11.0am I go below & play Blondie "Battleships." I haven't come across the game before although I am assured its quite an old game. I must each Renee [his wife], it's the sort of game we'll be able to play with Malcolm [their son] later on. Dinner & back on top where I spend the afternoon playing the same game with Lionel. The wind is very strong & the sea quite choppy but much to my surprise I am not disturbed, at any rate up to the moment of writing 5.45pm. After tea, with Lionel again on boat deck where we play two more games & then have a read. As it gets more & more cold I retire to my cabin 8.30pm where I prepare for duty at 9.30pm. Same post tonight ATS quarters."

06 January 2009

Sinatra and the Queen

Today in 1967, Assault on a Queen, starring Frank Sinatra, was released in West Germany, seven months after its debut in the United States. According to the Internet Data Movie Base (IMDB), the plot, from a script written by none other than Rod Serling, involves adventurers planning to rob the Queen Mary on the high seas. I haven't yet seen it, but I've put it on my TiVo wish list. Some of the reviews on Amazon.com indicate it's somewhat boring, but personally I still want to check it out just to see the Mary's interiors. Another movie worth seeing for its QM connection: Lord Jeff, starring Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney. Having been made in 1938, it offers one of the few chances to see the ship before WWII.

05 January 2009

A Special Relationship

Today in 1952, Winston Churchill arrives in New York with Sir Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon and British Foreign Secretary, to "get in touch" with President Harry S. Truman. Says Truman, "Great Britain and the Commonwealth of the United States are the closest of friends and you and I want to keep it that way." Both men agree that lasting peace is their ultimate aspiration.

British Movietone has clips of Churchill's departures and arrivals, among other interesting things. Check it out: http://www.movietone.com/N_search.cfm (dates listed for clips are for broadcast).

Additional source:

04 January 2009

Around the World in 108 Days

On this day in 2010, the Queen Mary 2 will set sail from New York City for a trip around the world.* The ship will dock 108 days later in Southampton, England, having stopped at 37 ports along the way, including Civitavecchia (does this sound made up to anyone else?), Suez, Muscat, Bombay, Phuket (always fun to say), Hong Kong, Shanghai, Yokohama, Guam (ooo, fun!), Auckland, Sydney, Capetown, Rio de Janeiro, Barbados, and the ever exciting and glamorous Ft. Lauderdale.

If you'd like a Queen's Grill Suite, it will set you back a mere $80,529.78. Small change, right? Especially for butler service 24/7 and evening canap├ęs and personalized Cunard stationery--among other privileges. Of course there are less expensive accommodations, ranging from $66,729.44 for a Princess Grill Suite to $23,189.56 for a Brittania inside room. But no problem--you've got a whole year to save up! Now how many quarters does it take to get to $80,000...?

*For more details, see the official Cunard website.

03 January 2009

Wartime Passage #5

On this day in 1941, the Queen Mary, having been enlisted as a troop carrier the previous year, arrived in Fremantle, Australia, helmed by Commodore Robert B. Irving. The ship had undergone massive changes in order to increase her troop capacity and was regularly ferrying soldiers to the Middle East, which had become the principal theater of war. This photo shows the Mary, now clad in gray, leaving Sydney Harbor with Australian soldiers bound for action in Egypt.

Gray Ghost: The RMS Queen Mary at War by Steve Harding
Australian Government

02 January 2009

The Queen Runs Aground

On January, 2, 1949, the previous day having run aground in a gale near Cherbourg, France--her usual stop on the outward bound journey to New York--the Queen Mary was back in Southampton for inspection. Apparently, one of the Queen's anchors had gotten tangled up with "Pluto," the oil pipeline used by the allies on D-Day. Despite the fact the Cherbourg port was not only chiseled out of hard rock but littered with German u-boat wreckage, she went aground on a bed of soft sand and shell, showing the sort of luck she'd continue to have throughout her career. Captain Harry Grattidge had her back in the water at high tide. After divers in Southampton examined her hull, the damaged area was reinforced with concrete--a hundred tons!--but just as a precautionary measure. She was quickly on her way again. 

British Movietone, "Queen Mary Grounds Near Cherbourg"
The Sea My Surgery, Dr. Joseph B. Maguire