Friday, September 11, 2015

The Queen and Cunard

HRH Princess Elizabeth looks on as Queen Elizabeth
 names the ship
Britain’s royal family has a long history of association with Cunard Line and Queen Elizabeth II has been an important part of it, starting even before her coronation. While the exact moment Princess Elizabeth became Queen in February 1952 is not known, at some point on September 9, 2015, Her Majesty The Queen became the longest reigning British Monarch in history surpassing the record held by Queen Victoria who reigned from 1837 to 1901.

That was an achievement to be acknowledged and celebrated and a Commemorative Dinner on each of Cunard’s three ships has paid tribute to The Queen as well as recalling the remarkable association she has had with the company—a relationship that dates back to 1934. During her reign The Queen has launched or named 23 ships—four of them Cunarders! And two of them for P&O!

It is a fact that The Queen’s association with Cunard dates back to September 26, 1934 when she was part of the royal party attending the launch of Queen Mary by Her Majesty Queen Mary. Just four years later Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret returned to the Clyde when they watched their mother launch the biggest ship in the world—Queen Elizabeth.

Before she became Queen in 1952, the Princess, on her last public engagement before her wedding, was back at Clydebank on October 20, 1947 to launch Cunard’s Caronia. She was greeted by 40,000 wellwishers that day.

The second Queen Elizabeth, perhaps better known as QE2 and also built at Clydebank, was launched by The Queen on September 20, 1967. In doing so Her Majesty revealed the biggest secret of the day—the actual name of the new liner. The Queen had her first view of the ship as she flew overhead prior to landing at Glasgow Airport. At precisely 1428 hours on a sunny afternoon, in front of 30,000 Clydesiders, Her Majesty stepped forward on the launching platform and said: ‘I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. May God bless her and all who sail in her.’ She cut the ribbon using the same gold scissors that her mother had used to launch Queen Elizabeth in 1938 and her grandmother to launch Queen Mary in 1934. This released the bottle of wine that smashed onto the side of the newly named liner. She pressed the button that electrically released the launching trigger.

Then nothing happened. For 70 seconds it seemed as if the ship did not move. The Queen looked amazed; the smile slowly faded from Prince Philip’s face. Workmen high up on her deck leaned over and shouted ‘Give us a shove!’ Shipyard director George Parker joined in the spirit of the request and bowler-hatted, he sprang to the bows and pushed. He jubilantly waved his bowler when, by a coincidence, she began to move. A little over two minutes after the Queen had named her, the new Elizabeth had slid smoothly into the Clyde. Newspapers the next day claimed the Queen had wept as the new ship entered the Clyde, and that Prince Philip took a white handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. The Queen exclaimed ‘Oh, look at her, she’s beautiful.’

Aircraft from the 736 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm flew over the ship in an anchor formation as an aerial salute as six tugs manoeuvred her inch by inch into the fitting-out basin. The Queen and the royal party and guests then went to tea in the works canteen. There The Queen was presented with a small speedboat for the Royal Yacht Britannia—built on the same berth as QE2. A delighted Queen thanked the shipyard chairman Lord Aberconway and suggested it may be appropriate to call it John Brown and have it painted in Cunard colurs, to which Prince Philip retorted: ‘Why not call it Cunard and paint it brown?’ Almost two years later The Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, visited QE2 on May 1, 1969 in Southampton on the eve of the ship’s Maiden Voyage.

Apart from the odd occasion when The Queen would view QE2 from the Royal Yacht Britannia she did not visit the Cunard flagship again until July 27, 1990—the day of a Royal Review as part of Cunard 150th Anniversary Celebrations. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh reviewed three Cunard ships (QE2, Vistafjord and Atlantic Conveyor) and Royal Navy ships at Spithead prior to transferring from Britannia to QE2 by Royal Barge and continued up Southampton Water while enjoying lunch on QE2. It was the first time a reigning Monarch had sailed on a commercial ship with other passengers.

Thirty-seven years after launching QE2, Her Majesty traveled to Southampton on January 8, 2004 to name Queen Mary 2—the largest, longest, tallest, widest, and grandest ocean liner ever built. That ceremony is still regarded as the most spectacular of its kind ever.

HM The Queen on board QE2 during
her farewell visit to the ship
A sad farewell occurred on June 2, 2008, the anniversary of her Coronation, when The Queen paid a farewell visit to QE2 in Southampton and enjoyed lunch on board. She unveiled a specially-commissioned portrait, ‘Coming Home’, depicting QE2’s forthcoming final Southampton arrival which was presented to Southampton by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh during his farewell visit on November 11, 2008—the last day QE2 spent in the UK.

It wasn’t long before a new Queen Elizabeth would join the Cunard fleet and Cunard was honored that Her Majesty agreed to name her, which she did on October 11, 2010 in Southampton.

The Queen could claim to be the only person to have been present at all three Queen Elizabeth christening ceremonies.

History and Images Courtesy Cunard Line

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