29 January 2013

Coo-ees and Whistles


From a "Mail" Correspondent
Disclosure recently that the Queen Mary was troop-carrying from Australia early in the war was not news to most people. When she first steamed into an eastern port hundreds of thousands of sightseers flocked to see her.
To the A. I. F. men who were transported over, the Middle East run changing conditions on "the Mary" reflected the mounting tempo of Britain's prosecution of the war.

The world's third largest liner hastily impressed into troop-carrying duty, at first carried only a few thousand men; nowadays, with every square foot of cabin and deck space utilised, up to 14,000 soldiers have been accommodated.

This metamorphosis from the last word in luxury, when three or four soldiers were quartered in lavishly appointed cabin suites, to a great ship converted by expert hands to handle more than a division of fighting men, has taken time. On each trip, changes were noticed.
Instead of the two or three sittings at each meal, a new system was devised so that troops could eat and sleep in shifts.
In the last three years, what has happened to "the Mary" has taken place on many of Britain's ships, which, although externally the same, are internally vastly different.

There was only one drawback to being carried by this great vessel. Because of bulk and tremendous draught, "the Mary" was forced to drop anchor out in the roadsteads at various ports. Her soldier passengers were then forced to watch with chagrin men from smaller transports eagerly thronging ashore in strange places for a day's leave.

One special occasion thousands of Diggers and Kiwis will remember vividly--some with misgiving. The convoy was steaming quietly through tropical waters when suddenly, after signal pennants had been run up, the ships began changing formation with precise movements.

At the end of the evolutions, the disposition had so altered that Queen Mary was at the end of the line. Then her stem began slicing deeper into the sea, and the bow wave grew in size until two huge cascades of water were being thrown away each side.

With every deck and vantage point of every vessel a cluster of men, "the Mary" swept down past the convoy at 30 knots. As she went, thunders of cheers were given and returned. Coo-ees and whistles grew fainter and less persistent as she sped into the distance--with the first troops to be taken to Malaya.

- The Mail, Adelaide, S.A., January 29, 1944

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