16 October 2010

Fulfilling Her Mission

From an article entitled "A Stewards Life" in The Age on this day in 1937:
He [Mr. Dave Marlow] shipped as a steward on the mammoth liner Queen Mary, but he found the work so hard that he made only one voyage in her, across the Atlantic to New York and back to Southampton. "For sheer non-stop labor it was the hardest job I have ever known," he writes. "Stop for a single minute, and some official would find you something to do. Serving lunch was a mad rush. By the time it was over I was soaked through with sweat. Down to my bunk, change, and up again to help wash the huge pile of dirty silver. It took twenty of us well over an hour to do this. The amount of plates, glass, silver and crockery used for one meal was almost incredible. Away, and change again to carry baggage on board, as we were nearing Cherbourg. Those of us not carrying baggage were detailed to serve tea in the lounges or on deck. A short break, and dinner was upon us. Two hours of running the length of the diningroom to the kitchen, scrambling for plates, glasses, &c, until my stiff collar was limp, my clean shirt once more wet through."

"We got our own meals after the passengers had finished," he continues. "We ate standing up in the pantry, for there was no time to go below to the messroom. The food was good, and I certainly needed something substantial to fortify myself against the strain. I had noticed that most of the stewards looked very tired-eyed and weary--now I knew why. Silver again. After this, some of us were detailed to serving drinks in the various lounges and smokingrooms. In the small hours of the morning I at last finished, and sought my bunk. It was situated aft, over the propellers, and two decks down. I was one of 25 in the stewards' 'Glory Hole.' A table and two short stools completed its furnishing, and the contrast between the lavishly decorated passengers' quarters was very striking. We were now at full speed and the vibration was terrific. Compared to the movement amidships it was like another world. I jumped up on my bunk, and, taking off my shoes, placed them on the cross-beam, a time-honored place in a ship for these articles. Not in this one! A few seconds, and the vibrations shook them loose and they fell on my head. Wearily I undressed and crawled between the sheets. Tired as I was, the noise and the vibration prevented me from sleeping. The back of a motor cycle going at full speed over a rough road was a peaceful perch compared to my bunk. I lay awake, mentally computing my hours of labor on the first day, and found them to be eighteen. And workers ashore grumble at a 44-hour week. The Queen Mary was built to make work, and she certainly does fulfill her mission!

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