Friday, November 28, 2014

The Queen Mary

As the advert says ,'I should have gone to Iceland'.
But instead I went to San Diego to look at the zoo.
And it took us 50 hours to get home.
The super duper Dreamliner aircraft with its high spec non jet lag cabin pressure, its electric windows ( darkening not opening) and state of the art in flight entertainment system is a fab plane. So new, it sat on the runway in its wrapper.
It is the most fuel efficient plane ever manufactured.
Because it doesn't actually fly.
It sits on the ground and looks pretty.

The plane we eventually got in (three airports later) had a special  turbulence seeking feature.
The luggage is making its way to Scotland by independent means.
Like I said, should have gone to Iceland.
So here is a blog from a free wheeling jet lagged mind, 

I'm from the part of Glasgow right on the Clyde (well all of Glasgow is on the the Clyde but you get my drift)
My Grandad , as a very young man, riveted bits of the Queen Mary together. My mum, years later worked for the computer that made her valves, all the aunts and uncles worked in shipbuilding somewhere. My dad designed some of the cranes that Browns, Kvaerner, Clyde Ship Builders ordered. Most of them are still in operation.
In China.
So this was  my favourite picture of the QM. Still on the Clydeside. If that ship could think, she's ruminating on her retirement, wishing for the good weather of Long Beach! 
See the wee guy in the foreground, umbrella, running to get out the rain.

Fred Astaire was a famous passenger.

Liberace was another

Yip, I had a shot in a Captain Kirk kind of way.
                                                             Full steam ahead Scotty,

Oh No captain, the engines canny take it

Then for some reason there was a picture of David Niven doing a Highland fling.

During the war, she was painted grey, and became known as the 'Grey Ghost'. The exhibition at her current Loch Beach site naturally emphasises the heroism and the gallantry of  sailings where  16500 men crammed onto a boat built to hold 2000 passengers and 1000 crew. I've been told since that there were many fatalities from overcrowding, some from of crush injury  due to so many being in such a confined space.  That might be anecdotal, the actual reports still seem to be classified.. 

This report of a soldier on board talks about being more afraid of the Scottish weather than the enemy submarines.  The QM was rigged with a degaussing coil to prevent magnetic mines. She zigged zagged her way to make her difficult to track and her sheer speed made her difficult to pursue.

One night, off the coast of Scotland, she was hit by a rogue wave
That was December 1942, She had 16,082 American soldiers on board. which still stands as a record for most passengers transported on one vessel.
She had sailed 700 miles of the New York to GB trip when the wave hit.. It was 28 metres high, and went onto her broad side. The ship rolled 52 degrees. Three more and she would have been over.
A writer chappie called Paul Gallico  read about it many years later and wrote a book inspired by it.
The Poseidon Adventure

This does bring tears to the eye. After all that horror of war, the QM sailing into New York in the darkness. Grey painted, you can imagine her almost invisible in the night air - then they see the Statue of Liberty  lights flashing 'Welcome home' in Morse code.

But this was my favourite story. A young boy, a third class passenger, got into a bit of trouble in the swimming pool and was rescued by - Johnny Weissmuller!

Second class cabin

First class

Third class

Enjoying the sun in her retirement.
When these boats were launched the bow wave caused havoc down the Clyde into Renfrew and beyond. It  flooded everywhere. Kids ( of all ages - my grandparents included ) used to climb on high things on the day. They  leaned out of windows of upstairs neighbours in the tenements and enjoyed every minute of the chaos. Much of the old cine film of these launches is on U tube and worth viewing.
I've read that 18 drag chains acted as the breaks in the QM  and they had to widen the river to give her more of a diagonal to cross on at her launch - otherwise they feared she would ram the riverside further down.

All ship shape captain.

The radio room with radio sets from different eras.

All that wood was covered in leather to protect it while she was 'grey'

Many more crew died than passengers on board. Their cause of death is well documented and listed.
The ghosts that are aboard now don't correlate with any incidents as they are listed.

I found this plaque naming the engineering works where my mum worked the comptometer machine. Weird!

Clark Cable.

First class dining.

Some facts -  'born'  3 April 1929,  Build: John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland
Her hull number was 534. Launched  26 September 1934. Maiden voyage: 27 May 1936
She captured the Blue Riband in August 1936, lost it in 1937, recaptured it in 1938 and retained it until 1952 when the SS United States came along. She was chugging along at about 35 miles per hour.

It's a sign of the times that she was the first ocean liner with a Jewish Prayer room,  It was a policy to show there was no religious issue - any body of any faith could travel.

Of course, in any conflict, people have to make difficult decisions. On 2 October 1942, the QM  sliced through one of her escort ships, HMS Curacoa off the Irish coast. 239 lives were lost. But the QM was carrying thousands of Americans of the 29th Infantry Division to join the Allied forces in Europe and was under strict orders not to stop for any reason as the risk of U-boat attack was too high, The QM had been damaged in the collision but managed to sail on.

At the time it was claimed  she sailed on, regardless but later it was claimed that the Cpt sent one escort boat back to pick up survivors from the stricken Curacoa. Even later, a published memoir reports more than one escort boat went back, saving over 90 of the Curacoa crew.
 Queen Mary was retired after her 1,000th crossing of the North Atlantic.
Her last captain had a geat name; Captain John Treasure Jones. I wonder if he was known as Davie Jones.
My favourite fact, the Whistle on the QM can be heard ten miles away!

Caro Ramsay  27 8 11 2014


  1. Wonderful travelogue, Caro! Sorry your trip home couldn't have been on the QM instead of the modern ultra-posh, super-convenient, always-comfortable airliner-without-a-name.

    Ah, Johnny Weissmuller, my favorite Tarzan as well. There was a year or so when I was 12 or so, every Saturday they ran a Tarzan movie on the local TV station, usually starring JW and often Maureen O'Sullivan and Cheetah the Chimpanzee. Those were the Golden Years... I can still mimic his jungle call. One of my few talents. :-)

  2. The Dreamliner of another era. Great post, Caro. Your family must have been very pride of her.

    I'd love to take a cruise on one of these sea-going liners, but am afraid I'd be sick the whole time. After all I was sea sick on the fjords of Norway, where I could see every leaf of trees on the edge reflected in the water.

  3. Great post, Caro. We missed you at IcelandNoir, especially with all those fellow Scots around. One day, I will sail on a liner. I HOPE!!!

  4. I think the MIE bloggers should offer to travel free, luxury class on the QEII in exchange for a crime writing workshop for passengers! EvKa could call the pupils to class with his Tarzan yell.
    Any takers.....;)

  5. If it got hit by a rogue wave someone could write The Poop Side Down Adventure.
    EvKa, I watched Johnny W. also! We must have watched the same local channel.

  6. I think that if its baby sister once accommodated 16,500 frisky soldiers, the QEII could handle the hordes who'd want to learn crime writing from you...and meet EvKa.

    1. Oh, the latter can be accomplished much more quickly, cheaply, and easily by simply attending LCC 2015 in Portland this spring. Of course, there's great risk of let-down in the offing. Anticipation is usually the better part (as Carly Simon might say...) Reminds me: when I was in college, I worked nights for a while on "dorm patrol." Campus security would hire students (males, of course, they could be 98 lb weaklings and meek as a dove, as long as they had a penis, even if they didn't know how to use it) to patrol outside the dorms on campus at night, making sure the doors were locked and not propped open, to look for hooligans committing hooliganisms, make sure no students had set their dorms on fire with the candles burning in every other window, etc. Once an hour we had to call the campus security office, supposedly to make sure we were okay and hadn't gotten in trouble, but I always suspected it was really to make sure we weren't sleeping somewhere. Anyway, the same pleasant-sounding lady would answer the phone most nights when I called in, and I (being me) would joke around with her on the phone, tease her, etc. Eventually, after months of this through the cold winter, something came up that required that I visit the campus security office. When we finally met, she was a perfectly nice, pretty young woman not much older than me. But I got the distinct impression that the reality hadn't lived up to her vivid imagination. So it goes...

  7. Hey Caro. You were greatly missed in Iceland. In fact, long time no see!

    My favourite fact about the QM, from a long-ago trip there and never forgotten: her fuel economy figures. She travelled 13 feet to the gallon.

  8. I LOVE the Queen Mary! I only wish Bouchercon proper would've been held here!