Richard Drayson's QE2 Story

Updated on November 4th, 2009 by Rob Lightbody

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My QE2 Memories.
Richard Drayson. Ex-Snr Mech QE2 1984-1988

My life with QE2 started in 1984 after my brother Steve joined Cunard Line. He was fortunate, as our parents knew one of the officers and I think he was 'fast tracked' through the system to get onboard. At that time, I was in a 'dead-end job with no prospects after being made redundant from a job repairing Rolls-Royce/Bentley and Jaguar/Daimler cars.

I was just 25 when I decided that I wanted to join Cunard Line myself, my brother had told me how much fun it was, working at sea and visiting foreign ports etc. The money was pretty good too. How could I resist?

After having an interview at South Western House, Cunard's office in Southampton, I then had to undergo a medical and sign up with the N.U.S. Eventually, I received my acceptance from Cunard and I joined the ship in Cherbourg after flying out from Bournemouth.
As I joined the others in the Rotunda on 2 deck I felt somewhat apprehensive, not knowing what was going on. I didn't know what job I had, where I could sleep, where to eat or get a cuppa... absolutely nothing!

The group were then required to go to the Writers Office on 6 Deck, where we signed ships articles, given our job title and then given a cabin number. I cannot remember my cabin number, but it was fwd on the stbd side (with a sea view)!!! I had joined the ship as an Asst Steward (No Mans Land).

With having an engineering background I had hoped for a job in this department so working in the Hotel Department was completely alien to me. Although dull, the work was fairly straightforward... going round the public areas with a can of polish and a duster and vacuuming the carpets of the public rooms and the stairways. I think I did this until my crew leave and, upon returning to the ship, I found myself in another job altogether... the Night Gang.
This job, too, involved the use of a vacuum cleaner but it was also a requirement that we had to serve in the Columbia Restaurant during the midnight buffets. Now this was quite fun, especially as my brother, Steve, was also a night gang member. I made a couple of quite good friends whilst I was doing this job, one of which, Richie Hislop, was to join me in doing something which, as far as I know, hadn't ever been done aboard QE2 before...... to change departments.

We were both interviewed by one of the engineering officers and eventually accepted as Asst Mechanics. I think my technical qualifications helped, and Richie had originally done his sea training at Sea School in Gravesend, Kent. Now this was more like it... real work, boiler suits, steam, heat, sweat... I relished it and Richie felt the same. No more white shirts, ties and shiny shoes, we were even allowed to grow beards, which we both did. We wanted to look the part afterall !!!

Our new boss (Donkeyman) was a great character named Brian Atkinson. We'd both be working in his day gang. The work consisted mostly of a mixture of general housekeeping duties in the machinery spaces. This could involve mopping up oil spills/leaks in the steering gear to opening steam valves in the boiler room, repainting pipework in the A.M.S (aft machinery space) to removing and chain-blocking heavy electric motors from the T.A. Room (turbo-alternator room). The work was physically demanding, mostly very hot, always noisy and usually dirty but, for all that, very rewarding at the same time. The day gang lads were mostly a great bunch and there was a camerardie between us. We worked hard and played hard.

Things progressed very nicely from then on, under the supervision of Mick Earley, I joined the night gang. The jobs were basically the same as those undertaken by the day gang, though, working at night allowed certain jobs to be carried out easier, the painting of 6 Deck alleyway was one which was regularly undertaken. I thoroughly enjoyed working in the night gang, and was lucky enough to remain in this job even after several spells of crew leave. Things changed after it was suggested that I might like to take on the job of relief donkeyman for both day and night gangs.
This was OK with me, as by now I had a good knowledge of the jobs required, good knowledge of all the machinery spaces and an understanding of what was needed to be done. Unfortunately, I felt that there was a little resentment from one or two of the gang who had been working in the department longer than I had. Being in charge of people was OK, but I actually preferred to be doing the work myself. Interspersed with the relief donkeyman, I also did spells 'on watch' in the T.A Room. The rota worked being 4 hours on and 8 hours off, round the clock, 7 days a week.

Eventually, I became a Senior Mechanic and worked under Martin Kay, one of the Engineering Officers. I thoroughly enjoyed this work... most of it fitting impellors to pumps I seem to remember! By this time, the big refit in Bremerhaven was only weeks away and just before the ship sailed to Germany, I, along with the majority of the crew members, went on extended crew leave.

It was around Easter 1987 when Cunard contacted me saying that I was required to fly over to Bremen and rejoin the ship. My God... what a sorry site she was when I arrived at the shipyard!
The guts of the ship were completely ripped out, everything was in a mess and it was so cold too, with the shell doors open and no heating. I missed the sea trials but rejoined the ship in Southampton for her transatlantic to N.Y.

Back on watches again and our new Chief Engineer required the watchkeepers to do an extra 2 hours a day as overtime. This was because both the day and night gangs did a 10 hour day and, presumably, it was decided that we all do the same number of hours from then on.

The overtime rule wasn't popular as far as I can remember and it was to lead to a letter of resignation from me!
It was decided that I would spend time in the SCR (Safety Control Room) to learn all about the various systems and how they worked. Amongst other things this included transferring the salt water ballast between tanks and/or taking on or discharging ballast. Fuel oil transfers, heating steam on the fuel oil tanks, monitoring the freshwater and R.O systems, fire doors, watertight doors etc etc.
It was like something out of 'Thunderbirds' - control panels with switches, lights, diagrams etc and I B****Y HATED it. It was quite stressful in there on your own and I really didn't feel comfortable in this position. Mulling things over in my mind, the only way I could see of changing things was to write a letter of resignation. I can remember the 1st Engineering Officer urging me to reconsider my position, but, by this time my mind was already made up and it was both with great sadness and a sense of relief that I bade farewell to the QE2 for the last time.

Looking back, with hindsight being a wonderful thing, I made the wrong decision. But it was done and at the time, it was what I needed to do.

Richard Drayson (Ex- Snr Mech - QE2)