10 September 2010

No One Danced


From the article, "Sarasota Woman Cancelled Sailing On Lost Athenia" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on this day in 1939:

Echoes of the European war were heard in Sarasota this weekend when Mrs. Percy Robinson returned to her home...after fate had caused cancellation of her accommodations aboard the ill-fated Athenia and brought her safely home on the Queen Mary, jestingly referred to by passengers as the Mystery Ship.

As the war scare increased, she feared that the ill-fated ship might not sail and attempted to secure passage on the Queen Mary.

"When the shipping authorities told me it wasn't possible, I didn't let it stop me," she smiled. "I simply camped in the office until I got what I wanted, although some 400 were ahead of me. Strangely, I returned with three Jewish women, two from Danzig and one from Scotland as cabin-mates. The two Danzigers were, of course, fleeing. They were most interesting, but were terribly sad throughout the voyage and I tried to cheer them up a bit.

"...before we sailed, every light on the Queen Mary was turned on and the ship inspected by the Admiralty. All portholes were blacked out and heavy blankets hung over doors. it wasn't possible for them to see the ship in the port, so well was all light concealed."

Mrs. Robinson didn't know until she reached New York that the Athenia had been torpedoed. "We had news flashes every five minutes throughout the voyage, but not a word about a sea disaster was revealed. Several times the broadcasts stopped suddenly, and I suppose that was when news of the Athenia or some other torpedoed vessel was been [sic] given. We would have been frantic had we heard that.

"We didn't know that the warfare had reached the sea, but we thought something was wrong when we discovered the Queen Mary wasn't following its regular course. We first realized this when we got so far north that we had to put on heavy overcoats. Then we discovered that the sun was first on one side of us and then another, indicating a zig-zag course. Even with this we weren't so worried, though, because we didn't really realize the danger.

"The most unusual thing about the whole voyage though, was the fact that there was virtually no life among the 4,000 passengers. You know, there is usually a gala night immediately after departure, about midway and at the end, but not so on this trip. No one on the boat danced.

"With my husband here, not knowing even which ship I was on, I tried franticaly [sic] to let him know of my departure, but failed. Like countless others, I went to the radio room, but found it tightly locked. No word could be sent out for fear of revealing our location."

Mrs. Robinson said there were a number of Germans aboard the Queen Mary. "At least a couple of them shouted 'Heil Hitler' several times, but the other Americans on the boat made them stop it. How? They simply told them we wouldn't stand for it, and that was that."

Mr. and Mrs. Robinson came to Florida two years ago from England.

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