31 March 2009

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

On this day in 1953, Her Majesty Queen Mary, in whose honor the stately ship was named, was laid to rest in the traditional burial place of British kings, St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Thousands of Britons, including British royalty and European nobility, had come to Westminster Hall in the preceding days to pay homage to the dowager queen, who had lain in state there after passing away on March 24. She was buried beside her husband, George V. 

Her majesty launched her namesake ship in 1934 at Clydebank, cutting a ribbon that released a bottle of Australian champagne against the port bow of the liner. It was the first ship built by the joint effort of Cunard White Star, and the first to bear neither the customary -ia of Cunard ship names nor the -ic of White Star liners. After the Queen Mary's launch, Britain's transatlantic fleet would truly be queens of the sea. 

30 March 2009

Ron & Pat Love Mary

Among passengers arriving home from Europe aboard the RMS Queen Mary on this day in 1949 were actress Patricia Neal and actor (at the time) Ronald Reagan. The two had made John Loves Mary together the previous year for Warner Bros. The film had been on Broadway for little over a month when they arrived in New York.  


29 March 2009

Ahoy, Comrade

On this day in 1949, Andrei Gromyko was aboard the RMS Queen Mary on his way to New York as Chief Soviet delegate to the United Nations (UN), having been appointed to the UN Security Council in 1946. Later in his career he served as Soviet foreign minister to the United States, during which time he played a direct role in negotiations involving the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was also instrumental in the policy of detente between the United States and Soviet Union. In 1985, he became leader of the USSR (Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet) until replaced by Mikhail Gorbachev.

28 March 2009

Seppos in Sydney

On this day in 1942, the troopship Queen Mary, carrying American troops for the first time, arrived in Sydney, Australia after 4o days and 40 nights at sea. Captain John C. Townley was at the helm as the journey began on February 18 in Boston, but was relieved by Commodore Sir James Bisset at Key West, Florida, where 8,398 G.I.s boarded. Bisset took the ship through ports in Rio, Capetown, and Fremantle, before reaching Sydney. Upon arrival, after an initial stop at the Randwick Racecourse staging area, the troops were sent to bases throughout Australia. 

Gray Ghost: The RMS Queen Mary at War

public domain

27 March 2009

Home and Dry

On this day in 1936, the RMS Queen Mary arrived in Southampton for drydock where she would be tested for possible damage after running aground twice as she navigated the River Clyde. She also would be scraped and painted and have her four giant propellers replaced--in the time it took to build the liner, they had become obsolete. The new propellers awaited her in Southampton in preparation for the speed trials scheduled for the second week of April. 

Hear a firsthand account from that day here.



26 March 2009

Breakfasting British

Stewed figs? Fried kingfish au citron? Hominy or Leicester brawn, anyone?  

For breakfast in third class aboard the Queen Mary on this day in 1939:

Photo courtesy of Twomets' Photostream

25 March 2009

Steering Clear

On this day in 1936 after departing Clydebank the previous day, the RMS Queen Mary was undergoing preliminary tests of her steering in the open water off the Isle of Arran. Trials were undergone at three-quarter speed as she journeyed to Southampton for drydock; her official speed trials were scheduled for the second week of April. 


24 March 2009

See Ye Efter!

On this day in 1936, the RMS Queen Mary departed John Brown's Shipyard in the Firth of Clyde for open sea and drydock in Southampton. The ship had been in Clydebank, Scotland, since her keel was laid in December 1930. Thousands were on hand to witness her departure, cheering as the ship moved slowly out of her tight quarters at the builder's yard. After four blasts of her horns, tugs pulled her into position where her propellers churned the water to white foam. 

According to the Canberra Times, "The vessel was at a complete standstill for half an hour before it negotiated the double Beardmare Bend, a quarter of a mile from the shipyards. Sunshine changed to clouds and the smoke from the liner's funnels swirled down the river like a fog. Pilots directed the operations by means of electric loud speakers at either end of the ship. The tugs had to exert all of their engine power to keep the Queen Mary in position. The crowd remained quiet until the bend was successfully negotiated..."

Though the Clyde had been dredged to accommodate the giant liner, she went aground twice--the first time fore and aft, the second time only the stern touching bottom--but inspection revealed no damage to her keel. Along the way, her booming whistle sounded twice in salute, first for a statue of Henry Bell, builder of the first steamboat on the Clyde, and then for a school built in memory of Clydesider, James Watt, inventor of the steam engine. The Mary anchored that evening at Tail-of-Bank, off Gourock, where her anchor was tested and her compasses adjusted, before continuing the following day the 14-mile journey to Southampton.  

Canberra Times
New York Times

23 March 2009

A Remark from Remarque

On this day in 1939, author Erich Maria Remarque arrived in the United States for the first time aboard the RMS Queen Mary. Remarque is best known for his novel, Im Westen nicht Neues (recognized as All Quiet on the Western Front in the English-speaking world), told from the perspective of a German soldier during World War I. His visit, coming during the uncertain days leading up to a second World War, elicited from him the declaration that "America would be the salvation of the world."

He's pictured here in Hollywood with another German exile, Marlene Dietrich, about a month after his arrival.

21 March 2009

A Distinguished Visitor

On this day in 1950, after a delay of two days due to bad weather at sea, Sir Alexander Fleming arrived in New York City aboard the RMS Queen Mary. Though the Scottish biologist/pharmacologist was known for many accomplishments, he is best and most gratefully remembered for his discovery of penicillin in 1928, for which he and his colleagues won the Nobel Prize in 1945.


20 March 2009

Like Father...

Sir Winston wasn't the only Churchill to sail aboard the Queen Mary. On this day in 1948, his son, Randolph Churchill, was traveling home to England aboard the Cunarder. While in the States, the author and lecturer had appeared on Meet the Press.

He's pictured here a few years later with his father, who was once again prime minister of England, and his son, also called Winston.  


19 March 2009


On this day in 1937, the S.S. Normandie was a day into an eastbound voyage that would win her the Blue Riband Trophy, awarded to the ship that makes the fastest Atlantic crossing between America and Europe. In August 1936, the Queen Mary had taken the prize from the Normandie, but the French ship rebounded in '37, setting new records not only in March, but in July and August. 

The Mary would eventually win the Blue Riband back in 1938, holding onto it until 1952 when she lost it to the brand new--and speedy--S.S. United States. 


18 March 2009

A Quiet Launch

Time on this day in 1940:

Q.E. Deed

Captain John Townley's comments were laconic and anything but epic. "Well, I mean to say, I better not discuss that. . . . You mustn't ask too many questions. . . . Then a number of things happened, I can't say when. . . . Don't ask where. ..."

Chief Engineer William Sutcliffe mostly shrugged and shook his head. The only definite things he would say were that he had used all twelve of her boilers and that some day she would outspeed the Queen Mary. But about the crossing he was modestly mum.

Manhattan offices of the Cunard White Star Line issued an announcement of her arrival as dry and unsalted as a British High Command communique. About the crossing's adventures, nothing.

All garrulous old Winston Churchill would say (last week, at least) was: "Splendid, very good work, indeed."

Even Pilot Julius Seeth, who brought her up from Quarantine, failed to pick up any yarns. His only comment was that "she did everything a lady ought to do."

At a daily cost to New York City of $1,300, nine police sergeants, six mounties, 22 plainclothesmen and 117 patrolmen were deployed along the Hudson River waterfront to keep a tight ring around the lady so that no one could even get a good look at her.

And so the U. S., as usual, had to get the lowdown by devious methods. Across Twelfth Avenue from Pier 90, in a waterfront joint called the Anchor, Queen Elizabeth's crew gradually spilled the beans. Whoever would talk got free drinks. Some of the men were reticent and asked not to be quoted. Senior Printer Pearce Jones not only consented to be quoted; he insisted. "I am protected," he said, "by the Typographical Society of Great Britain and Ireland." Greaser Tom Barber and Fireman Jim O'Brien and Engineer Peter Johnson were in fine form. Oiler Jack Sykes babbled in Cockney. Gradually the story took consecutive shape:

At John Brown's Shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland, on Sept. 27, 1938, at 3:36 in the afternoon, Queen Elizabeth gravely said: "We cannot foretell the future, but in preparing for it we share a trust in a Divine Providence and in ourselves"; then snipped a ribbon which released a bottle of champagne to christen the world's largest liner (85,000 tons, 1,030 feet overall) with her own name. Into the water slipped the Queen Elizabeth, and into troublous times.

As peace waned, Q. E. grew—got her two funnels, pumps, donkey engines. She came along fast. Cunard set her first voyage to the U. S. for April or May 1940. Then war broke. Q. E. sat useless, an unfinished liability, meat for either sabotage or bombing. Last month fire broke out in her library.

Fortnight ago the report was given out that Brown's had contracted so much war work that Q. E. was in the way. Since one of the year's two highest apogee tides was coming along, it had been decided to move her "to another port." With no fuss, with only a few score people lining the same Clyde River banks where 1,000,000 had cheered Queen Mary in 1936, Q. E. eased downstream. For an hour she kissed a mudbank at Rashielee Light, where the Mary, too, had grounded. Finally she anchored outside, at Greenock.

A shadow crew of 378 was signed on "for the run to Southampton," at four quid two and ten (about $17) a man.

Ostentatiously a pier at Southampton was cleared. If there were any German agents around, they were allowed to hear exactly when the big lady was supposed to reach that vulnerable port.

For two days, inside Greenock's harbor boom, Q. E. limbered up. Two screws ahead, two astern, she slowly turned around. This shunting was all she ever had by way of shakedown, trial run, compass test.

On the first day of March the crew was called together in the third-class lounge.

Captain Townley spoke. He talked of what a fine ship this was—Britain's pride.

Then he sprang a surprise. He told the men they were going to make a trip of which they could not know the danger.

The crew negotiated for, and was promised, "run money" of $120. A few with families or funk ("who didn't want to be shanghaied into any bloody disaster") walked off. Those who remained were allowed to write letters home. Next morning, with hardly anyone to watch her go, Q. E. put to sea, convoyed by a squadron of bombers and four destroyers. At dark the planes cut back. Captain Townley then opened his orders to find out where he was going. He was going to New York.

The destroyers stayed with her into the second night.

The third morning, the convoy had disappeared. Q. E. was on her own. All she had for protection now was a coat of drab grey paint and a DeGaussing Girdle—a weft of cables strung around the hull just below the promenade deck. Nobody on either side of the ocean—outside the British Navy and the Cunard Line—could say for sure how this electric belt worked.

Best guessers figured that it either extended the ship's magnetic field, thus exploding the mines at a safe distance, or reversed the ship's polarity, thus immunizing it to the effect of the mine's magnetic trigger. Ironically the protective device took its name from German Magnetist Karl Friedrich Gauss, whom Captain Townley patriotically calls "a Swedish professor." Q. E. had a tried skipper in charge.

Captain John Townley is an old hand, formerly captain of the Queen Mary. Dodging Germans was old stuff to him. During World War I he shuttled troops to the East in the Aquitania. He skippered the Mauretania on her last hazardous run to Manhattan in September.

As soon as the convoy dropped away, he ordered Q. E.'s speed stepped up from 17 to about 25 knots, and began zigzagging. Her course was south of the regular lanes—warm enough so the men could sunbathe on the off watches. On the fourth day, thick fog came up. Submarines or no submarines, Q. E.'s foghorn blasted every minute. Next night it cleared and passenger ships passed. ("We could see their lights in the darkness," said young Quartermaster Norman Cronin. "We were all blacked out. We couldn't even smoke on deck.")

Early on the morning of the sixth day, Q. E. sighted Nantucket Light. At this point, with a premature burst of pride, the Admiralty announced in London that the Elizabeth had reached a safe berth "across the Atlantic." This was the first intimation to most of the world that Q. E. had even left John Brown's Shipyard. Far more amazing, a far more admirable feat than Q. E.'s actual run was the secrecy which had blacked it out. Too many people knew it was coming off—families of the crew, some 2,000 Brown Shipyarders, the underwriters for Q. E.'s $18,000.000 insurance, Admiralty insiders, many thousands in firms under contract for fittings, furniture, odds-&-ends which had to be left behind. But not one of them talked. They had read the repeated warnings that walls have ears and Adolf is under every table.

If Germans were disappointed by the news, they gave no sign of it. Said an official spokesman: "The stealthy trip into a U. S. harbor does not speak well for British confidence in victory. First the British took gold over there, then apparently other treasures, and forgot to bring back certain historical documents [i e., one of four copies of Magna Charta, deposited in the Library of Congress]. Now they must pay $1,000 a day docking charges. . . . What is the Queen Elizabeth anyway. It is not even finished. In fact, it is half a skeleton. Now, the Bremen—that was something!"

Manhattan newshawks announced Q. E.'s arrival while she was still miles from Ambrose Light. Not until the next morning did she heave to at Quarantine, greeted there at the end of her strange maiden voyage not by swarms of welcoming craft, but by three hollow grunts from the humble sludge boat Coney Island, on her way to dump outside the bay. . . .

And that, said the boys at the Anchor, was that. Why had she come? So as not to be bombed, of course. As for those docking charges the Nazis jeered about,* she would save almost $1,000,000 a year on insurance premiums by being out of the danger zone.

Had the men been frightened? Blimey, no! Why be frightened on a nice, easy trip, with a bar for the crew, and cards, and the best British tobacco? But the men were glad to be in New York, all the same—glad to be out of danger, glad to be heroes, glad, above all, to be where beer flowed free and there was no such thing as blackout. "Know what I'm going to do next?" exulted Quartermaster Cronin. "I'm going up to Times Square and just walk around and let the lights shine on me." Before the evening was over, Quartermaster Cronin did some shining of his own. With two pals he drifted into the bright Hollywood Restaurant, and soon, right in front of a flashlight camera, he had his chin chucked by a chorus girl till he glowed like Ambrose Light.

*Queen Elizabeth would incur no new rental charges at Cunard's Pier 90, chartered by the year for $189,188. But Mauretania, moved to new space to make room for Q. E., will entail a new rental fee for Cunard. Mauretania was berthed at Pier 86, which until October was rented to North German Lloyd and held the Bremen just before her dash home.

17 March 2009


On this day in 1940, a bomb exploded in a parcel room at Grand Central Station in New York City. Though no damage was done, the resulting smoke caused understandable panic. The device, put into a suitcase in which police found a map of New Zealand, was believed by authorities to have detonated too soon. Its true purpose may have been to play a role in sabotaging one of the three liners now engaged as troop ships--the Queen Mary, Normandie, and Queen Elizabeth, all at port in New York Harbor. Only four days later, the Queen Mary would depart for Sydney, Australia, on her first voyage of World War II. 

Canberra Times

16 March 2009


On this day in 1966, the Queen Mary, on a Mediterranean cruise, arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, for two days before departing for Funchal on Madeira Island. The cruise had begun in New York on February 25, and had so far made stops in the Canary Islands, Morocco, Greece, Italy, France, the Balearic Islands, and Gibraltar. Funchal was the ship's final port before heading back to New York. A month later, Cunard would announce the Mary was for sale. In little over a year, she would be on her way to Long Beach, California, where she remains today. 

15 March 2009

Reports of her Demise are Greatly Exaggerated

Asked to comment on the reported torpedoing of the Queen Mary by German u-boats, the War Department on this day in 1942 declared from Washington, D.C., "We know nothing about it."

Announcing the sinking months earlier, Berlin radio had elicited gleeful laughter from the troops onboard. 

Canberra Times

14 March 2009

Now Voyager

Leaving New York today on the Queen Mary in 1951:

Bette Davis.

She did have to share the ship with other passengers, however.

New York Times

13 March 2009

Ghost Sighting

On this day in 1942--according to Vichy radio reports in Buenos Aires--the troop ship Queen Mary in her gray war paint departed Rio de Janeiro carrying 10,000 British and American troops. She was escorted by three warships, and her destination at the time was unknown. 

The truth was she'd left five days earlier. Her sailing schedule, having been discovered by a group of Axis spies led by Count Edmondo Di Robilant and passed on to lurking u-boats in Brazilian waters, was altered when Allied intellingence intercepted the transmission. Captain James Bisset was directed to leave in haste for Capetown, staying in Rio only long enough to take on fuel and provisions. 

Gray Ghost: The RMS Queen Mary at War by Steve Harding
Canberra Times

12 March 2009

Hull No. 736

From Time magazine on this day in 1965:

The dowager Queen Mary will be replaced in three years by a $64 million ship that is known so far as Hull No. 736. Already it has stirred curiosity and controversy. The Council of Industrial Design has worried aloud about whether the Cunard Line will make the ship's interior look smart enough, and last week Cunard felt obliged to announce that the Queen will "reflect all that is best in British design."

Nobody doubted that the vessel itself would be shipshape. It will be built, like almost all other Cunard passenger liners, on the banks of Scotland's River Clyde, in the yards of John Brown & Co. With British shipyards ailing, John Brown pared its bid almost to cost to win the largest ship order in British history. This summer the company will assign 5,500 workers to the task of putting together the 58,000-ton Queen.

John Brown has built scores of ships —the latest being the 67,000-ton tanker British Confidence—and it is busy on land as well as on sea. It is stringing a 500-mile pipeline across Algeria, and will soon begin constructing a $112 million synthetic-fiber plant in Siberia. This wide-ranging activity helped increase the firm's profits 50% last year, to $8,400,000—to the delight of its stockholders, high among which is the Church of England.

Surviving Nationalization. At the helm of John Brown is Lord Aberconway, 51, a pleasant, unprepossessing product of Eton and Oxford, who succeeded both his father and grandfather as chairman. Lord Aberconway stresses Brown's broad outlook: "We call our selves engineers and shipbuilders."

John Brown started out as a land lubber. A onetime Sheffield cutlery apprentice, Founder Brown ventured into steelmaking in 1840, expanded into railway rails and armor plate. In a dispute with his directors, Sir John resigned in 1871, later died in poverty. The company grew on through wars and depression, hardly paused in the late 1940s, when the Labor government nationalized its coal and steel subsidiaries. It Used a $15 million compensation to modernize plants and acquire machine-tool companies. When the Tories offered back the denationalized mills in 1953, John Brown was doing so well that it turned them down.

Not Just Luck. Machine tools now account for 90% of the company's earnings, but the most promising subsidiary is an engineering design and construction firm, Constructors John Brown. "C.J.B.," as its executives call it, is building the Algerian pipeline and the Russian plant, a fortnight ago won an order to put up an Imperial Chemical Industries complex in Yorkshire.

Because such business is more promising than shipbuilding, John Brown will be paying less and less attention to the sea. The changing emphasis will reflect its motto—Nee Sorte Nee Fato [Neither by luck nor destiny]—which Lord Aberconway amplifies by adding, "Rather by planning and good work."

Public domain

11 March 2009

Fording the Atlantic

On this day in 1946, Captain Charles Musgrave Ford took command of the Queen Mary for the first time, piloting the ship when it was engaged in ferrying warbrides across the Atlantic to their husbands in the United States. All together, he would be at the helm for five post-war, pre-peacetime crossings. 

Three years later, as detailed on this blog, he would be promoted to commodore by Cunard. 

Queen Mary by James Steele

10 March 2009


The English women's squash team, after taking part in the Wolfe-Noel Tournament, an annual event alternating between England and the United States, departed New York today in 1937 aboard the RMS Queen Mary. The Americans took the cup from the British, who had won the previous year in London. England's ladies no doubt drew much interest on their way home from passengers looking for tips to improve their game on the sun deck's squash court. Though they left America without the trophy, they departed with many other tournament honors. 


New York Times

09 March 2009

VIP Voyagers II

Sailing on the Queen Mary today in 1938:

Arturo Toscanini, conductor

Michael MacWhite, Irish minister to the United States

Brian Lewis, 2nd Baron Essendon (nicknamed "Bug"), Director, Furness Withy, and race car driver

Charles F. Urschel, wealthy Oklahoma City resident & kidnap victim of Machine Gun Kelly

New York Times

08 March 2009

Shipyard Sally

On this day in 1938, top English singer/actress Gracie Fields--"Our Gracie"--arrived at the height of her career in New York aboard the Queen Mary. The gal who was born over a chip shop had been the highest paid film star in the world the previous year. 

In 1939, she would star in the picture Shipyard Sally, in which she played a music hall performer in Clydebank, who with her father tries to help the unemployed shipyard workers by convincing the owner to resume building on the Clyde. The final scene shows the construction and launch of the Queen Elizabeth while Gracie sings Land of Hope and Glory.

New York Times
Internet Movie Database

07 March 2009

On Location

On this day in 1974, a remake of Mame, starring Lucille Ball, was released in New York City. The film was shot in several locations, including the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. In one scene, Lucy and Robert Preston, who plays Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, are seen strolling along the promenade deck as he sings, Loving You

Because Ms. Ball was aware some were comparing her unfavorably to a different Mame--Rosalind Russell--she asked Warner Bros to take the film out of circulation. Lucy's Mame was unavailable to televsion for ten years before the film was restored and released on home video in the 1990s. 


06 March 2009

Captain's Quarters

On this day in 1947, Captain John A. MacDonald took command of the RMS Queen Mary for the first time. During the ship's career, she had 33 different commanders, fifteen of them commodores, three of those--Edgar Britten, James Bisset, and C. Ivan Thompson--bearing the title "Sir" as Commanders of the British Empire (CBE). 

A captain had serving directly beneath him four officers, including a staff captain, as well as the chief purser, chief engineer, and chief steward. 

As reported in the May 1936 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, the ship's commander "...run[s] the Queen Mary from a "brain center," the ship's chart room, next to the wheelhouse. A glance around dials and indicators in this room gives an officer more information than a regiment of foot messengers could bring in...the Queen Mary will run the year round, and despite weather conditions, expects to deliver passengers on...schedule." 

05 March 2009

The King & The Queen

Using the ordinary workman's gangway to board, King Edward VIII on this day in 1936 inspected the RMS Queen Mary where she sat in the River Clyde under heavy rain. The king, having left London for the first time since the death of his father, doffed his bowler hat in repsonse to cheering workers lining the sides of the ship, many of them shouting, "Good old Teddy!"; he then proceeded to take a seven-mile, three-hour tour, visiting several first class staterooms, the officer's quarters, the engine room, and the bridge where he chatted for a considerable time with Commander Sir Edgar Britten, who would pilot the Mary on her maiden voyage in May. 

Said the king to Cunard White Star Board Chairman Sir Percy Bates, "This is a ship built for utility. I am very pleased with everything I have seen."

Canberra Times
New  York Times

04 March 2009

Mary & Joseph

On this day in 1939, Joseph P. Kennedy, United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James (and father to one future president and two future senators), sailed home from England on the Queen Mary after discussions with British officials regarding Britain's stance on the Holy Land

Kennedy had been appointed to the ambassadorship in 1938 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, leaving his post in 1940 after responding to the growing threat of Nazi aggression by suggesting democracy was finished in England, as well as possibly in the United States.

New York Times
The Kennedys: An American Drama by Peter Collier & David Horowitz

03 March 2009


On this day in 1938, the first class lounge on the RMS Berengaria caught fire while at port in New York Harbor. The U.S. Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, backed up by Lloyd's of London, the ship's insurer, deemed her unfit for service and directed the removal of all passengers only an hour before sailing time. Subsequently, four hundred of them found room aboard the Queen Mary and were able to cross the pond six days later. 

The Berengaria, after returning to Southampton empty, never made another transatlantic journey. Due to her fire risk caused by faulty wiring--she had had two previous fires, one of them in her first class cabins two years earlier while in dry dock at Southampton and another more recently in her third class cabins--she was purchased for demolition, her furniture and fittings auctioned off the following year. During her career with Cunard White Star, the ship carried many famous personalities, among them Rin Tin Tin and Edward, Prince of Wales (traveling separately, of course). 

New York Times

02 March 2009

Happy Days are Here Again

On this day in 1936, the New York Times reports that demand for reservations on transatlantic liners is the greatest it has been since the beginning of the Great Depression, with some vessels expected to sell out -- among them the Cunard White Star Line's Queen Mary. The imminent maiden voyage of the new superliner is considered no small factor in the sudden increased interest in ocean-going travel. 

01 March 2009

Good News

New York Times headline on this day in 1936:

The Queen Mary, Latest of a New Sisterhood, Unites Grace With Great Size and Speed