Today sees Her Majesty The Queen turn 90 and each of Cunard’s ships has despatched a congratulatory message to Buckingham Palace to extend the cruise line’s birthday greetings. Her Majesty attended her first Cunard event in 1938, when she was just 12 years old. Accompanied by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, she was attending the launch of Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, the biggest liner in the world. Since then, she has become the only person to be present at the launch of all three Cunard ‘Elizabeths’ – the first in 1938, QE2 in 1967 and the current Queen Elizabeth in 2010. The Queen has launched and named four Cunard ships, made several visits to the Queen Elizabeth and the QE2, sent numerous congratulatory messages and reviewed Cunard ships many times from the decks of the Royal Yacht Britannia. Few organisations can claim such a historical association with royalty, dating back 78 years, and to commemorate Her Majesty’s birthday Cunard has issued a series of never-before-seen images from each of the Cunard events she has attended.
Launch of Queen Elizabeth – Tuesday 27 September 1938
The Queen attended her first Cunard occasion aged 12, joining her mother and sister at the launch of Queen Elizabeth, the new Cunard flagship and the biggest ocean liner in the world.
Originally The King was due to attend with his wife to watch proceedings but at the request of the Prime Minister (Neville Chamberlain) he did not travel to the John Brown Shipyard on Clydebank and remained in London as the prospect of another war loomed.
It was the first time the general public had heard the voice of the Queen, which was broadcast over the airwaves. After the speeches there followed a pause in the proceedings to await the moment when the tide was at its correct state. It was during this time that the Queen was presented with an album of photographs of the new liner at varying stages of construction. However the ship herself was unwilling to wait and slowly she began to move down the slipway. The Queen and the officials around her looked momentarily startled but quickly the Queen released the bottle of wine, which fortunately managed to break against the hull.
Queen Elizabeth was launched by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1938 and despite plans for her to enter service in 1940, did not make her passenger maiden voyage until October 1946 because of the Second World War.
On 7 October 1946, Queen Elizabeth arrived in the Clyde for sea trials and made ready for the arrival of the Royal Party the following day.
The Royal Train, carrying the Queen and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, arrived at Greenock and was met by Sir Percy Bates, the Cunard Chairman. Once on board Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Party toured the public rooms and by 11.15am the ship was heading out to sea. After lunch, the ship was making speeds of 30 knots as the group toured the galley. Just before 3pm, the Queen and the Princesses proceeded to the Bridge, where Elizabeth and Margaret were each given a stopwatch; they were to time the liner’s speed over the traditional measured course.
Queen Elizabeth achieved the first mile in two minutes 1.3 seconds, at a speed of 29.71 knots. The next mile was achieved in two minutes 1.0 seconds, at a speed of 29.75 knots.
For a time, the Queen took the helm of the biggest passenger ship in the world. She changed course four points, steadied the new Cunard flagship and was impressed when told that she had moved a rudder that weighed 140 tons.
Afterwards, the Queen continued her tour of the public rooms and the Princesses visited the Engine Room (wearing protective coats). Queen Elizabeth was back on the Clyde at 5pm and the Royal Party disembarked.
In later visits to Cunard ships, today’s Queen told of having seen and tasted white bread for the first time while on Queen Elizabeth during this very first visit!
Launch of Caronia – Thursday 30 October 1947
HRH Princess Elizabeth, aged 21, had been asked to perform the launch of Caronia – a ship that was noted for her unusual green livery and one which would become the most luxurious cruise ship in the world.
This would be the last public function that the Princess would undertake in the weeks before her marriage to the dashing young Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, who would accompany his bride-to-be to Clydeside for the occasion.
After the launch, a ration-breaking lunch of cream of tomato soup; cold turkey, ham and tongue; potato croquette potatoes and green peas; Pear Melba followed by coffee, was served.
Launch of Queen Elizabeth 2 – Wednesday 20 September 1967
The Queen had her first view of what was to become the QE2 as she flew overhead prior to landing at Abbotsinch Airport in Glasgow. She was then driven to the shipbuilder’s offices. There she was met by Admiral Sir Angus Cunninghame Graham, Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire, who presented Sir Basil Smallpeice and Lord Aberconway to Her Majesty. After a private luncheon party in the Boardroom, the Queen then made the two-minute car journey to the launching berth, where she and the Duke spent 20 minutes inspecting the launching arrangements.
At precisely 2.28pm on a sunny afternoon, Her Majesty stepped forward on the launching platform and said:
“I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second.
“May God Bless her…
[Noise and cheers from the crowd]
“May God Bless her and all who sail in her.”
There was a cheer in the yard from the 30,000 or so spectators as the Queen announced the name. 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, releasing the bottle of wine which duly smashed onto the side of the newly named liner. She then 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 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 gave the liner a shove. He jubilantly waved his bowler when, by a coincidence, she began to move. In a little over two minutes after the Queen had named her, the new Queen Elizabeth had slid smoothly into the Clyde. Newspapers the next day claimed that 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”
The Queen and the Royal party and guests then went to tea in the works canteen.
With The Queen visiting Southampton on 1 May 1969 to open the new Ordnance Survey Building, it was hoped she would also accept an invitation to visit QE2, which she duly did. This would continue a Cunard tradition set with Cunard’s other Queen liners. Queen Mary and other members of the Royal Family visited Queen Mary before she entered service and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, visited Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth during her post-war sea trials.
Accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen arrived at Southampton’s Ocean Terminal by special train at 11.45am.
The Cunard Chairman, Sir Basil Smallpeice, would later write:
“The Queen was in splendid form, talking freely to the officers in the Ward Room and to seamen around the ship”
“…we were passing through the Queens Room…Stormont Mancroft pointed out to the Queen the Oscar Nemon bust of herself. ‘You are putting it here, are you?’ she said. ‘How did you manage to finish it so soon?’ ‘Of it’s not finished yet Ma’am, Stormont said. ‘This is only a plaster cast, painted over.’ The Queen continued: ‘He is a great perfectionist, isn’t he? I have now sat seven times for this bust, and each time he finds something wrong with it. “that’s no good”, he says and wrenches my head off’ – using her hands as she spoke to demonstrate his wringing her neck”.
The Royal party lunched in The Grill Room, where the menu consisted of melon ball cocktail, cold fresh Avon salon with mayonnaise boiled potatoes and tossed green salad, and fresh strawberries and cream, followed by coffee; Batard Montrachet 1962 was served.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Cunard, the QE2 undertook a special Round Britain Voyage and, on 27 July 1990 arrived and anchored in her allocated position at Spithead. Shortly afterwards, she was joined by the Cunarders Vistafjord and Atlantic Conveyor, Royal Navy ships, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. plus dozens of private yachts, motor boats and excursion vessels, all keen to take part in the planned Royal Review of Cunard.
The Royal Yacht Britannia left Portsmouth, led by the Trinity House vessel Patricia and followed by HMS Broadsword, sailing past the port sides of the anchored Cunarders. A Concorde, a 767 and 747, then made a flypast in salute, before the Britannia anchored and a second flypast, consisting of a Sea King, Lynx and Dauphin helicopters and a Harrier jump jet, took place.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh then transferred to QE2 by Royal Barge and attended receptions in the Queens Room and Grand Lounge prior to lunch. QE2 left her anchorage at 1.45pm and proceeded to her berth in Southampton. This was the first time The Queen had sailed on the ship she had launched 23 years earlier and it was the first time a reigning monarch had sailed on a ship with commercial passengers. QE2 berthed ahead of Vistafjord and later that evening both ships were serenaded with a firework finale.
The Queen broke her long-standing tradition of not performing any public duties while at Sandringham for the Christmas break, undertaking an official duty in the month of January for the first time since her reign began, when she travelled to Southampton with The Duke of Edinburgh to name Queen May 2 – the largest, longest, tallest, widest and most expensive ocean liner ever built. It was also the first Atlantic liner to enter service in 35 years.
The naming ceremony was distinctly Cunard and has been acclaimed as the most spectacular ceremony of its kind ever, featuring performances by The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines (Portsmouth), the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and soprano Lesley Garrett, all of whom performed under the direction of one of Britain’s most popular conductors, Anthony Inglis. One heart-stopping moment was provided when singer Heather Small was performing a specially-extended version of her anthem ‘Proud’, during which Queen Mary 2 was ‘unveiled’ after a spectacular curtain drop
On the anniversary of her Coronation, the Queen travelled to Southampton to make a farewell visit to QE2 during the vessel’s last months in service. This was a case of history repeating itself, as her Mother had previously paid her own farewell to ‘her’ ship, Queen Elizabeth, in 1968.
The Queen toured QE2 and met many of her crew prior to unveiling a specially-commissioned portrait of QE2 called ‘Coming Home’, which depicted the liner making her final entrance into her homeport of Southampton. When the ship made her final entrance on 11 November 2008, The Duke of Edinburgh, making his own farewell visit to the ship, presented the painting to the City of Southampton as an everlasting reminder of its favourite vessel.
The Queen named Cunard’s third Queen Elizabeth in Southampton, during a spectacular dockside ceremony. Having previously sat for a specially-commissioned portrait that would be displayed aboard the new ship, the Queen met the artist and viewed the finished painting for the very first time during the tour that came prior to the naming ceremony itself. With her visit, she became the first ever person present at the launch of all three of Cunard’s ‘Elizabeths’.
Happy Birthday Ma’am from Cunard Line and everyone at Bolsover Cruise Club!