Queen Elizabeth 2 - 1969-2008
Cunard's former flagship Queen Elizabeth 2 was truly a record breaker.  Launched by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the 20th September 1967 at John Brown's shipyard on the Clyde, this 65,863grt liner had her maiden voyage to New York on the 2nd May 1969 from her home port of Southampton.  In fact she was the first Cunard ship to have Southampton as her registry instead of Liverpool after they moved their offices in 1967 to the port.  Replacing the previous and much loved Southampton-based liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth on the transatlantic run, she was devised from the aborted Q3 Project, named Q4, and was a risky venture with the increasing popularity of air travel which had forced Cunard to sell her predecessors and most of their fleet to cut heavy losses.  QE2 herself was only given six months before experts thought she'd be mothballed.  How wrong they were!  Her funnel was also not traditional Cunard in colour or shape but instead tall, thin and white with Cunard on her sides so people would know which company she belonged to.  She also featured very modern interiors instead of the art deco of her predecessors.  Contrary to popular myth, she never was RMS, just plain QE2, as Cunard wanted to break from the past.  In May 1972, QE2 made the news when terrorists said they would blow her up if they didn't get $350,000.  It turned out to be a false alarm.  Her tonnage increased slightly that year due to altered passenger accommodation making her 66,851grt.  It went up again in 1978 after a further extension of passenger accommodation making her 67,140grt.

In 1981 she made her appearance in the classic British TV soap opera,
Crossroads, when the main character Meg Mortimer was written out, supposedly dying in a fire, but instead was sailing to a new life in New York.  The
filming rumours went how the lights were so hot they turned the sprinklers on.  Cunard were not happy at the thought of all those ruined carpets.  Apart from the obvious stern deck, theinterior scenes between Meg and her daughter Jill never took place onboard, instead being filmed in a Southampton hotel.  She also doubled as the Queen Mary in the Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited the same year, filming in the mid-Atlantic.

She was called up for war duty in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.  Her campaign there is often exaggerated while
Canberra and others are overlooked.  She wasn't a real war heroine like Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth criss-crossing the Atlantic for six years in danger every time.  Or even Aquitania, which served in both World Wars, her reliability astounding everyone during WWII. After QE2 arrived back in Southampton on the 3rd May and a conversion which took nine days as opposed to Canberra's three, she finally set sail in the 12th by which time Canberra had been gone thirty-three days.  She spend eight days there transferring her troops to Canberra to take to the front line, her main threat being icebergs rather than Argentinian missiles, before returning home on the 11th June with injured servicemen while Canberra didn't return for another thirty days, being troop carrier, hospital ship and returning POWs to Argentina so was the true heroine.  While Canberra was affectionately called The Great White Whale, QE2 received the unfortunate nickname The Black Pig.  When the troops finally returned in July to a hero's welcome in Southampton, several had banners saying:
Canberra cruises where QE2 refuses.  As much as people love QE2, her war record wasn't in the same league as her illustrious predecessors or Canberra.

After the Falklands she returned to normal service on the 14th August but for some reason they decided to paint her hull grey while her funnel returned to normal Cunard colours.  It was not popular so they returned to normal colours a year later, leaving the funnel.

She lost her tall, thin look in 1986 when from November 1986 to April 1987 she underwent a radical overhaul at Lloyd-Werft in Bremerhaven to convert her from traditional steam engines to diesel and was increased to her current 70,327grt.  She looked odd with her fatter funnel but after getting used to it looked odder without it.

The first photo is the oldest known I have.  It shows my late great-grandparents Henry and Rose Stapley on board in the Queens Room but I'm unsure of the year or whether it was a cruise or visit as it's the only one we have and my parents can't remember.  It was sometime between her entering service in 1969 and my family moving from Kent in 1972 while my great-grandparents remained there until their deaths in 1974.
The following couple of photos were taken from my bedroom window on the 23rd August 1987, a few months after her conversion.
In 1993 QE2 appeared in an episode of the BBC TV comedy, Keeping Up Appearances.  Two years later she was to appear again, albeit in a spin-off.  Granada TV's Coronation Street (at that time celebrating its 35th anniversary) and the longest-running drama serial in the world (though it's become a soap) made a video featuring the characters of Rita Sullivan, Mavis Wilton, Curly Watts, Raquel Watts and Alec Gilroy, filmed on board during the 13th-25th October during a cruise.  The Yacht Club was renamed The Mermaid Bar for a reason even the writer, John Stevenson, knows nothing about.  He just did a transatlantic to get the feel for his script while they used both the Yacht Club and Queens Room for the Mermaid Bar.

During the latter part of the 1990s she underwent two changes of ownership when first Trafalgar House, who had owned Cunard since the 1970s, was sold to the Norwegian company Kvaerner in 1996 but they didn't invest in the line so sold the company to American Carnival Corporation in 1998.

The next lot of photos were taken on the 14th April 2000 as we cruised around on a harbour tour to see the Tall Ships.

With the imminent arrival of Queen Mary 2 on the 26th December 2003, QE2's days as the Cunard flagship were coming to an end after thirty-five years.  On the final leg of her world cruise in 2004 she met her larger and younger sister in Manhattan for a tandem crossing back home.  QM2 cast off first on the 25th April, followed by QE2 and they stopped in the Hudson River for fireworks before arriving back in Southampton on the 1st May, QE2 arriving first and she docked in 106 while QM2 docked in the usual 38/9.  The Boston Cup was handed over at lunchtime to QM2, signalling the end of QE2's transatlantic career and flagship of the fleet before she passed her sister as she sailed to Bremerhaven for her refit.

On the 4th September 2005, the world's most famous ship surpassed the 36 years, 4 months and 2 days record of former Cunarder,
Scythia to become Cunard's longest-serving liner.  However her days of travelling the world were coming to an end as Cunard announced on the 18th June 2007 she had been sold to become a hotel complex in Dubai.  They rejigged her final few itineraries to include another round Britain and a couple of tandem transatlantics with Queen Mary 2.  Because of the change, QE2 stayed in Southampton for a nine day wet dock resulting in a meeting on the 22nd April 2008 with QM2 and QE2's replacement Queen Victoria, which was more meaningful that the one in New York.  By the end of the year it would be out with the original fast classic liner, who can go faster backwards than QV can go forwards, and in with the sixth slow cruise ship not designed for these conditions.

On the 27th August 2008 I had the opportunity of visiting the ship thanks to my then boyfriend, pianist Patrick Patton, who I'd met two months earlier during my Fjords cruise.  It is unnaturally quiet without passengers but gave me a chance to take a few photos of public rooms.

The ship returned on the 10th September when the ship came back and once more I went to visit.  This time I managed to see some crew areas and, more importantly, stand on the bow!
I didn't get much chance to see anything thanks to Patrick controlling everything and drip-feeding as usual on the 30th September except Six Deck on the way to get to crew security on Five Deck which was a shame.  Time was running out.
The 10th October was better after they returned from the Farewell to the British Isles cruise.  Access to the bow again yet this time, after a rather revolting mess in the mess they called lunch, the upper part was open.
I was on as a passenger for the 22nd October but after getting back on the 27th and handing over my luggage to my dad to take home, I collected my pass with Patrick and reboarded for the very last time.
Patrick's Passenger Cabin (4244)
Crew Areas
Castaways Bar
The Fo'c'sle Bar
Castaways Bar Again
Pig & Whistle
Crew Gym
Bow and corridor to the mess
Crew lunch & my first waiter Francis
Leaving for the last time
It was time to say goodbye, knowing as I walked away from the dockside that had been her home all these decades, I would never set foot on her again.  I am eternally grateful to Patrick for arranging the passes so I could visit during her last few months.  I just wish I'd been able to see more of the crew area but time had run out.  QE2's farewell voyage to Dubai was the 11th November 2008, exactly eleven months after QV entered service, and her life as a ship ended on the 26th November when she arrived at 5pm in Dubai.  Cunard didn't want to even mark her departure and, despite the hype of having the longest paying off pennant for a Cunarder, at 39 feet it was actually the shortest.  It should have been 390 feet so they even did her out of that record.  So much for appreciating heritage.  It's all spin.  The writing was already on the wall despite what Cunard said, when they publicised the '40th Anniversary' two years before the real one.  There was only one reason to do that which was because they knew she wouldn't be around in May 2009.  Other signs were Caronia had gone within a year of QM2 entering service and they would never have had cruises for November and December blank unless something was afoot.  So it really beggars belief it's come as a surprise to so many when it was perfectly clear from the 2007 itineraries if anyone thought about it.  It will be a really sad day, especially for the people of
Southampton and surrounding areas as she was our girl, the most famous liner in the world who carried the name of her home port proudly around for thirty-nine-and-a-half years.  Such a shame she
was denied a REAL 40th anniversary which could have also served as her farewell cruise.  Now there will be another Queen Elizabeth in 2010 which is yet another Vista and they've made it clear it's named after the first one.  Calling a cruise ship clone after an original and well-loved liner is an insult!  QE2 was the last true Cunard liner.  QM2 is a Caribbean cruise ship but a worthy successor to the Cunarders of the past.  The same cannot be said about the Vistas when there's so many around other brands.

But the QE2 was far from forgotten in her home port.  Southampton City Council opened the QE2 Mile in 2010.  There are also plaques in the pavement relating to the city's history.  Two relate to her and are below.  Then there is the famous anchor, given to the city but finally placed outside Holyrood church on the 31st August 2011, unveiled at 6pm on the 1st September.  I finally got to see it on the 28th November with my friend Fay.
So it is with a heavy heart I finish this piece by saying goodbye to the only remaining ship I grew up with and one which, despite her over-hyped Falklands record lasted longer in my life than Canberra by eleven years and thirty-one days, even though in service terms, she had been sailing the oceans just three years more.  In fact, the very date QE2 sails on her farewell transatlantic to New York is eleven years since Canberra sailed from that very same terminal for that Karachi beach.  I suppose we ought to be grateful she hasn't endured the same fate at the moment, languishing on the dockside.  On the other hand with still an uncertain future as a success in her new role, especially in the Dubai climate competing with six star hotel complexes and resorts, perhaps scrapping would be the better option as, if she fails, she will go there in the end anyway.  It will also be forty years and six days since the original Queen Elizabeth departed Southampton for her planned static role in Port Everglades and sadly, we know what became of her.  Let's hope her successor has more luck.

Lizzie!  You'll be missed by those who sailed on you and loved you for the rest of their lives.

For photos of
Canberra at Calshot that day click
here.  To see photos of the QE2's final day in Southampton, click here.


© Patricia Dempsey 1987-2008
Not to be reproduced without permission
28th November 2011