08 June 2009

Stateliest Ship

From Time on this day in 1936:

Foreign News: Stateliest Ship

Symbol of Mother Britain's mighty and today successful struggle to get the upper hand of depression and unemployment, the Royal Mail Steamer Queen Mary, newest pride of the Cunard White Star Line and of the Empire, arrived this week in Manhattan, majestic amid bedlam. The droning, diving, zooming air planes; the squirting fireboats and shrilling sirens were to quietly delighted Britons the perfect foil for what every child in the Empire has been taught for months to call "The Stateliest Ship In Being."

Aboard as the most pleased of 1,849 passengers was the U. S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, sedate Robert Worth Bingham, fresh from a hearty "Bon voyage!" wished him by King Edward VIII amid the pomp and gold and scarlet of the second levee of His Majesty's reign at St. James's Palace day before the Queen Mary Ambassador sailed. "A splendid ship!" glowed Ambassador Bingham. "She vibrates somewhat, as all fast ships must, but the Queen Mary is splendid!"

Almost religious was the mood in which millions of Britons had said good-by to the namesake of splendid Queen Empress Mary. On sailing day, agony columns of London newspapers carried such items as these : "R. m. s. QUEEN MARY — Veteran voyage (first crossed in M. 70's) Godspeed. MAY ALL THE VERY BEST CONDITIONS ATTEND YOU RIGHT THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER. May all your ways be pleasant ways. And all your paths be peace. And may He be with you every step of the way."

Rolls-Royce after Rolls-Royce twinkled up to the docks in Southampton, although it was Derby Day, and swank Britons scrambled to wave goodbys while broad Southampton Water was pack-jammed with British paddle-wheel steamers made joyously lopsided by passengers crowding near as possible to the Queen Mary. From Buckingham Palace the King Emperor flashed final greetings. From the Stateliest Ship began stately and soul-stirring B.B.C. broadcasts day and night to every remotest corner of the empire.

Wood, Wood, Wood. Soon passengers were chattering and bandying compliments about the feature of the Queen Mary most of them at once liked best, the frank and "shippy" use of every imaginable kind of wood in her walls, panels, bas reliefs and sculptures. Among more than 50 kinds of wood, alert fanciers assisted by Cunard handbooks were soon spotting avoidire, petula, zebrano, bubinga, makore, tiger oak, patapsko, peroba, pomla, blackbean. Some of the wood had been sprayed with aluminum glaze and gleamed like silver. Definitely and handsomely the keynote of the Queen Mary's modernistic decoration is wood, wood, wood. Witty new Member of Parliament A. P. Herbert, famed Punch contributor, wrote on sailing day, "As for the cabins—as for the eiderdowns, and the spacious beds, and the cupboards and looking-glasses and bathrooms . . . some British Homer should . . . describe where grew the trees that gave those polished panels, what cunning joiner it was that fitted them, what sempstress, nay, what silkworm it was that worked upon the bedcovers. . . .

"I could not discover a golf-course any where; but otherwise the Queen Mary seemed to me to be a well-found ship. . . [Passengers] will enjoy the brass plate [on the promenade deck] which charmingly records that Lord Burghley has made the circuit of that enormous area in 58 seconds [distance 570 yards] 'untrained and unchanged' — and, I believe, in evening dress."

Punch's droll Herbert could not leave off without proposing that "upon the Hot Seat or Vibrating Chair which jiggles" in the gymnasium, the Cunard White Star line should screw another commemorative plate: "HERE SAT, WITH HIS ACCUSTOMED DIGNITY AND CHARM, SIR HORACE DAWKINS, THE REVERED CLERK AT THE TABLE OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, AND WAS VIBRATED AFTER A GOOD LUNCH, MAY 16TH, 1936."

Finally Punch printed a cartoon, sensational in England, elfinly recalling that while efforts were being made to get the Queen Mary down the river on which she was built and out to sea, she became stuck at both ends (TIME, April 6). Punch, showing a canal barge in the same predicament, had its helmsman cry to the barge captain: "Don't forget, Cap'n, the same thing happened to the Queen Mary."

As voyagers grew more & more at home, they liked especially the easy gradient of the outside deck stairways ("Easiest to climb on any ship"); the typically British kindness to animals in the ship's dog house where a fatherly sailor seemed busy all day petting, stroking, brushing; and the superb "front seat driver's view" of where the Queen Mary is heading obtained from the crescent-shaped bar forward.

Beat The French! The Cunard White Star Line and upper class Britons generally deplored any suggestion that there might be a transatlantic record beaten, but everywhere among Britain's lower classes sailing day brought candid remarks by millions that "she'll beat the French!" In Paris and in London, confident booking clerks assured Queen Mary passengers that, leaving Southampton on Wednesday afternoon, she would dock in Manhattan on Sunday afternoon (four days). Aboard the ship sailed scores of passengers with tourist-agency coupons commencing in Manhattan with dinner on Sunday night.

Actual arrival was on Monday, the Queen Mary docking almost exactly five days after she sailed, but the fact that she did not on her maiden voyage win the Blue Ribbon had been discounted not only days but months and years in advance by Sir Percy Elly Bates [pictured], Cunard White Star's long-jawed Flintshire chairman, whose gold spectacles have such long frames that the lenses rest on the very tip of his long nose, and whose jutting jaw makes his friends call him "Chin" Bates. Much like the late great Calvin Coolidge in the dryness of his remarks, in the way his mouth folds upon itself and closes like a purse after one of his Flintshire sallies, Sir Percy was easily the most eminent tycoon aboard the Queen Mary.

"She is the smallest ship and the slowest ship we could possibly build which would do the job!" Sir Percy twinkled and crinkled. "I've said so all along and I stick to it! If we had built a larger ship or a faster ship than we had to have to maintain weekly service with a pair of ships, I should have been extravagant." Steadfastly during the voyage, even when his ship was obviously pushing her pace, the Coolidge of Cunard insisted to newshawks: "I deprecate any emphasis on speed."

In the engine room, dead accurate electrical tachometers showed the shafts revolving at what engine-room technicians said was in effect "top speed," this being of course subject to some improvement as the machinery becomes "run in." Noise at the propeller shaft hull bearings resembled a subway express. The reduction gears were utterly silent, triumphs of exact British machine fitting. Distinct vibration could be felt at all times in all parts of the Queen Mary, but experienced British passengers said she vibrated less than Cunard's once super-popular Mauretania, though more than the Bremen, Europa and Rex. Aboard seemed to be nobody who had ridden the Normandie since she was reconditioned to reduce vibration but, comparing maiden voyages only, the Normandie vibrated more astern and less amidships last year than the Queen Mary vibrated last week. Statistics:

Queen Mary Normandie
Maiden crossing 4 days 4 days
12 hr. 11 hr. 24 min. 42 min. *
Average speed 29.13 knots 29.64 knots
Best day's speed 30.64 knots 31.37 knots
Tonnage 80,773 tons 82, 799 tons
Horsepower 200,000 160,000

Swank Folk aboard the Queen Mary, like everyone else, were assigned to dining room places mostly at large tables. Placards asked passengers not to request tables of one, two or three. Most tables were of six or eight, service Cunard by beaming stewards. For five shillings ($1.25) extra per meal passengers ate in the beauteous Verandah Grill directly over the propeller shafts with superb views through great glass windows. There Rt. Hon. Lord Inverclyde, onetime husband of famed Actress June, ate nightly flanked by 100% blonde and dazzling Frances Day and Anita Louise. To themselves mostly, with noses in books, kept the Most Honorable Marquess & Marchioness of Milford Haven, on the Queen Mary socialite tops.

The Most Honorable Marquess of Donegall, swank London columnist, enlivened a lunch by amusing descriptions of how his Protestant Irish ancestors long centuries ago obtained many of their lands by throwing Catholic Irish landowners over a cliff which is still in the family. With his pretty Western wife, Beverley Baxter, M.P., leading British Conservative Party columnist, entertained swanksters with amusing tales of fearful rows by the gentle men of the Press in efforts to get their dispatches off the ship. Most aroused was portly British "Skipper" Williams, oldtime New York Times ship correspondent. "My office says my wires are arriving a full day late!" roared the Skipper. "This is outrageous. These radio conditions couldn't be worse." Later the Skipper calmed down, Sir Percy Bates having personally intervened to speed his dispatches, which pronounced the Queen Mary wholeheartedly "a splendid ship."

Never able to get through an urgent private radiotelephone call to Vancouver was famed Ben Smith, great U. S. market bear, who arrived in Britain after crossing on the Hindenburg, said that he now prefers that to any other transatlantic carrier. But, beamed Ben Smith, "you can say I say the Queen Mary is a fine ship."

Star British correspondent aboard was Sir Percival Phillips. His able dispatches exactly mirrored the tranquil atmosphere of "The Stateliest Ship In Being," the largest British ship, the fastest British ship and the finest British ship, dignified and motherly as good Queen Mary herself. Flashed Sir Percival, keynoting to the London Daily Mail: "Ours has been a singularly quiet ship. . . . Very few people are about after midnight, there are no late or over lively parties."

"Schedule." A few hours of fog slowed the maiden voyages of both the Normandie and the Queen Mary but to Cunard officials the fog seemed definitely welcome. Explained hard-working Terence McGrath, Cunard public relations chief: "It showed that in any kind of weather the Queen Mary can maintain her schedule, winter or summer, if necessary making up at other times speed she is obliged to lose in fog."

Puzzling to many travelers is the advantage of "schedules" which bring such giants as the Queen Mary into Quarantine in jig time, only to have her lie there until the tide is high enough to take her into dock. Cunard White Star's answer, guessed observers, perhaps to be revealed in her first eastward crossing, would be to use their ship's high speed flexibly in future, timing her arrivals to suit the tides.

No sooner had the new Queen smartly and safely docked than everything seemed to go wrong with New York City's new municipal pier, especially built to accommodate the Queen Mary at a cost of $5,000,000. First the pier's baggage escalator jammed, then the main elevator stopped running and soon hot-collared, wealthy passengers were dashing about in a nervous rage offering dollar bills and even fives to porters who would carry their wardrobe trunks down 40-ft. of steep, steel stairs. Canny, most porters took the money, then bumped, banged, jounced and slid the trunks downstairs with deafening din.

Undamped by these mishaps was the enthusiasm of Manhattanites for the Queen Mary as they swarmed to view her at $1 per view, Cunard White Star devoting the proceeds to marine charities. Flocking to Manhattan, notables from all over the U. S. accepted with relish invitations to visit the Queen Mary from their friend Sir Thomas Ashley Sparks, the thoughtful, quietly efficient gentleman who, as resident director since War days, has long been Cunard's greatest asset and ambassador in the U. S.

*On a later crossing the Normandie reduced this to 4 days, 3 hours, 28 minutes.

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