27th May 1936

Clydebank-built RMS Queen Mary takes her maiden voyage

RMS Queen Mary was commissioned by Cunard to replace the Mauritania, and, once it entered service, it would share the Southampton to New York route with its sister, the Queen Elizabeth.

She was ordered in 1929, laid down in 1930, launched and christened in 1934, and carried her first passengers in 1936. She was built on the River Clyde by John Brown & Company, and until officially named was known as Hull Number 534.

Maiden Voyage

According to The Scotsman on the day of the maiden voyage to New York, which was scheduled to depart at half past four in the afternoon, she would be carrying 2000 passengers, some of whom had booked their cabins back in 1930. Her departure was expected to draw an audience of quarter of a million along Southampton Water and on the Isle of Wight.

Queen Mary herself named the boat on the Clyde while it was still under construction in 1934 and, according to London paper Truth on 20 May 1936, was set to visit the completed liner at Southampton two days before its maiden voyage with the Duke of Kent “when her majesty will unveil the silk flag – her own personal standard – which she has presented to the ship. The standard has been framed in a glass panel on the grand staircase”.

“Marvellous ship”

The Queen Mary had elicited much interest, even from her rivals. The Port Glasgow Express of 8 May reported that the director-general of rival French Line, Henri Cangardel, owner of the Queen Mary’s main rival, the recently refurbished Normandie, had been given a two-hour tour. He declared it “a marvellous ship [and] a credit both to her builders and her owners.”

Her first crossing took just five days, and she arrived in New York Harbour on 1 June, although she would have arrived sooner had it not been for dense fog. That day, the Portsmouth Evening News reported that the roofs of the city’s skyscrapers were crowded with sightseers wanting to watch the ship arrive and “the vast new pier which has been specially built was thronged with an excited mass of spectators”. Brits living in America had travelled from all over the country and from a plane flying over the harbour “a two-way conversation between the liner and the plane will be broadcast from coast to coast across the country… Seventy-five private police, all picked men, will guard the Queen Mary from the clutching hands of souvenir hunters on her arrival [and] will protect the passengers from the numerous annoying incidents which are apt to occur when big liners are on their maiden voyage.”

World record missed

The fog – and the slow running it required – robbed the RMS Queen Mary of a likely world record. The Atlantic Blue Ribbon is awarded for the fastest crossing between Bishop’s Rock on the Scilly Islands and Ambrose Light in New York Harbour, which are 3015 miles apart. The Normandie had been fitted with new propellers just before the Queen Mary’s maiden voyage and subsequently made the crossing in four days, three hours and 14 minutes. The Queen Mary took two hours 39 minutes longer but had achieved a higher top speed than the Normandie during the journey.

RMS Queen Mary was retired in December 1967, at which point she was purchased by the city of Long Beach, California. She was moored at the city’s harbour, and significant internal changes were initiated, including the removal of her engines, to convert her into a hotel and museum. Her sister ship, RMS Queen Elizabeth, caught fire in Hong Kong Harbour. She sank on one side and featured in the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, in which she was supposedly used as a covert base by British Intelligence.



Other events that occured in May

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