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

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