19 March 2010

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From the St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, FL, on this day in 1940:

Queen Mary To Become Troop Ship


British to Use Vessel On Australian Run

NEW YORK - (AP) - Secret preparations to make Australian troop transports of Britain's 81,000-ton liner Queen Mary and its 35,000-ton new Mauretania were under way here last night.

Both opulently built for the luxury trans-Atlantic trade of peacetime, they have been lying here idle under dirty gray camouflage paint, the Queen Mary since the outbreak of the war and the Mauretania for some three months.

The British admiralty's decision to put them in the troop service was not made known officially, but the intention was disclosed with the arrival late in the day, aboard the British steamer Antonia, of 770 officers and men to supplement the skeleton crews which have been manning the Mary and Mauretania at their quiet piers.

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(In London, the admiralty would not comment).

While the owners, the Cunard-White Star line, acknowledged the presence of an additional corps of seamen, a spokesman declined to discuss the job assigned them, saying:

"If the ships are to be placed in service as Australian troopships you could hardly expect us to admit it at this time."

United States customs said, however, that because of information that the Britishers would be transferred by today to the Queen Mary and Mauretania it had not been necessary to inspect their  baggage.

No information was available as to when the vessels might leave, but the circumstances suggested a departure within a month.

Their route could and probably will take them out of the path of German danger - through the Panama canal or alternatively around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Pacific and Indian ocean waters to Australia.

A little more than a month ago - on Feb. 12 - the British landed at Suez, Egypt, a great army of New Zealanders and Australians.

MOORED SINCE SEPTEMBER

The departure of the $25,000,000 Mary, and the less showy but newer Mauretania would leave here the biggest of all merchant vessels - the 85,000,000-ton Queen Elizabeth, a $27,500,000 British investment which reached here on March 7 after running the gantlet of the north Atlantic on a strange maiden voyage.

The Mary was at sea when Britain declared war last September 3 and upon her arrival here the following day she was moored - ostensibly "for the duration."

Photo:
Troops boarding Queen Mary - Australian National Archives (Public Domain)

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