QUEEN MARY 80th Anniversary Of Launch Celebrated
Shawn J. Dake
Launch day for Job #534, the Cunard White Star Liner QUEEN MARY. Note Queen Mary and King George V on the podium to the right of the bow. From the collection of Shawn J. Dake.
Eighty years ago today on the banks of the River Clyde, a giant hull 1019 ½ feet in length slid down the ways and touched water for the first time. John Brown & Company shipyard had begun work on Hull #534 on December 1, 1930 but construction was halted a year later due to the financial constraints of the Great Depression. For nearly two and a half years the empty hull towered silently above the Scottish countryside. Work resumed in May of 1934 following the merger of the Cunard and White Star Lines stipulated by the British Government as a condition of loans to complete the ship. The name remained a closely guarded secret until the moment when the reigning monarch King George V and his wife Queen Mary mounted a specially constructed platform near the massive bow at the launch ceremony, September 26, 1934. The Queen said the simple but immortal words, “I am happy to name this ship the QUEEN MARY. I wish success to her and to all who sail her.” An audible gasp followed by a cheer went up from the assembled crowd. Majestically the hull began to move slipping into the water and afloat for the first time. Hull #534 was now a ship with a name.
QUEEN MARY 80th Birthday invitation
The historic event was celebrated again on the 80th anniversary of the launch aboard the QUEEN MARY in Long Beach, California. All day on September 26, 2014, the public was invited to board the ship free of charge while parking and tours were offered at greatly reduced prices. At 4:00pm, members of the press and the first 1,000 guests to arrive were invited down to the Grand Salon, formerly the First Class Dining Room on R-Deck for a very special commemorative ceremony. Entertainment began with a talented troop of all-female singers and dancers called The Satin Dollz, performing period songs. Honorary Commodore Everett Hoard delivered the opening remarks saying “The QUEEN MARY has a lot of friends sitting in this room. This is a great day; this is truly a great day… She is what our city looks at every sunrise and sunset.” After providing a bit of history of the origins of the ship, he reminded us of the words of King George V spoken on this day 80 years earlier, “Today we set forth the Stateliest Ship now in being and send her to her element with goodwill…” The centerpiece of the stage was an enormous cake replica of the QUEEN MARY built of flour and frosting instead of wood and steel. Weighing over a quarter ton the confection added its own footnote to maritime history. Over 15 feet long, 100 pounds of white-chocolate buttercream icing covered another 100 pounds of flour, 80 pounds of butter, 50 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of raspberry preserves and 200 pounds of modeling chocolate and fondant. Hidden in one piece of cake was a QUEEN MARY lapel pin, which would award the lucky finder a transatlantic crossing on the QUEEN MARY 2. The huge birthday cake was designed by Jose Barajas, owner of Mmm Cakes and star of TLC’s Next Great Baker. A pair of well-produced videos were shown filled with the memories of former bellboy Ralph Rushton who served on the QUEEN MARY from 1952 until 1962 and war bride June Allen who crossed to America in 1946 at the age of 18. Like many other former crewmembers Mr. Rushton has returned to his old ship for a visit. He expressed a wonderful sentiment that has proven so true, “There is something about this ship that keeps bringing you back. She’s got a heart and a soul.” Ms. Allen who was in attendance, recalled that 1,800 war brides came over on her crossing aboard the QUEEN MARY and even had their own shipboard newspaper called “Wives Aweigh.” She first revisited the ship last year, and while riding a shuttle bus from the airport related the story of having been a war bride to fellow passengers. When she caught her first glimpse of the QUEEN MARY after 67 years, she burst into tears and so did her fellow passengers. “The QUEEN MARY will always live in my heart,” she says. “It will always be part of my life. I love you QUEEN MARY.”
This is what a birthday cake weighing over a quarter ton should look like. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
QUEEN MARY Cake specifics: 15 feet long, 520 pounds and a whole lot of calories. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
Although these folks with their personal memories were tough acts to follow, the new Mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia was the next to step to the podium. Unlike some previous politicians, he obviously has a heart for the QUEEN MARY. He said he was “Excited to have the ship in Long Beach. It will always be here.” He presented an official City of Long Beach 80th Birthday Proclamation for the ship to Commodore Hoard. The Commodore then read a letter from England written especially for the occasion on behalf of someone who really knows something about Queens. From the office of Queen Elizabeth II came this message: “The Queen sends her good wishes to all concerned and congratulates the QUEEN MARY on this very special occasion.” Next, John Jenkins, the current General Manager for the ship addressed the capacity audience describing its place in history and what it means to Long Beach and future generations of visitors. After mentioning that he has been the G.M. for less than a year, he said his “goal is to cherish and protect the world’s most historic passenger ship.” With that in mind, he then made a highly anticipated announcement about the future direction for the ship with what he is calling his QUEEN MARY initiative. The proposed program would convert 65,000 square feet of space to a world class maritime science and learning center. The current Exhibit Hall would be turned into a 45,000 square foot museum, while the adjacent R-Deck space (possibly the unused former second-class dining room) would become 20,000 square feet of classrooms and science center space. The proposed museum would occupy three decks with one level focusing on the QUEEN MARY and the golden age of maritime history, a second level could be directed to a look at the Port of Long Beach and the themes of commerce and green technology, while the top level may feature rotating exhibits. “Today is the first step to re-imaging maritime history, and we are committed to preserving her past,” Jenkins said. Moving toward this goal he announced that a new non-profit had already been formed in August, 2014 called the QUEEN MARY Heritage Foundation. He did acknowledge that nobody has spoken yet with the school districts and no source of funding has been identified. “This is just a concept. We have a long way to go in raising funds,” he said. It may be noted that this approach has been tried before and that the idea of having a world class maritime museum and learning center aboard the QUEEN MARY goes all the way back to when the ship first came to Long Beach in 1967. The massive conversion work of removing the boiler rooms and forward engine room was to create space for just such a museum. For several years, the multi-decked Exhibit Hall in the cavernous engine space served as Jacques Cousteau’s Living Sea Museum prior to its removal. Perhaps the time has finally come to put this underutilized space to good use.
QUEEN MARY entrance. Photo Shawn J. Dake
But this day, was all about celebration with the QUEEN MARY herself as the birthday girl. Mayor Garcia, Commodore Hoard, Mr. Jenkins along with Jose Barajas and June Allen presided over the cake cutting, with the large audience invited “to share a slice of history.” The QUEEN MARY has made history for 80 years and although long decommissioned from her seagoing career with Cunard Line, has no intention of retiring anytime soon from continuing to serve the public. In December of this year, she will have been in Long Beach for 47 years. If this anniversary of her launch party is any indication, the QUEEN MARY is as well-loved now as it has ever been during her long stay in California. More than 5,000 people had visited the ship by late Friday, said QUEEN MARY spokeswoman Johanna Felix.
One of the earliest postcards for the ship. On the reverse it reads in part “The QUEEN MARY, new Cunard White Star superliner, was christened by Her Majesty, the Queen of England on September 26, 1934 at Clydebank, Scotland. This mammoth vessel is expected to enter regular transatlantic service early in 1936. Postcard from the collection of Shawn J. Dake.
Before her launch, persistent rumors and speculation swirled about what the name of the ship would be. Even today the story continues that she might have been called the QUEEN VICTORIA, but for a misunderstanding between Sir Percy Bates and the King. That often told story was related again at today’s ceremony, but the fact is she rightfully could have been. The ship was named by and for Mary of Teck known by a variety of titles including Queen Mary, the Queen Consort and Empress of India. Her full name was actually Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes. It is probably a good thing that they didn’t try to put all of that “Queen” name on the ship or it would have needed a longer bow. Queen Mary, the woman was born on May 26, 1867. QUEEN MARY, the ship departed on its maiden voyage May 27, 1936, a day after Queen Mary’s 69th birthday. Today that ship commemorated 80 years of being in the water. A proud day for all those past and present, who have been associated with this great ocean liner.
QUEEN MARY with British Phone Box. Photo by Shawn J. Dake
QUEEN MARY rivets. Photo by Shawn J. Dake
Thanks to Martin Cox, Caroline Dake and Johanna Felix.
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
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