Author Topic: Joining the QE2 16th December 1968  (Read 2935 times)

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Offline Bryce Foundling

Joining the QE2 16th December 1968
« on: Feb 15, 2015, 11:48 AM »
Joining the QE2 16th December 1968

Leaving Portsmouth on the early train I travelled firstly to London and then on to Glasgow and Greenock to join the brand new QE2 as part of her new crew. Having worked for the last six months on the Queen Elizabeth including her final voyage ( See previous post) after a month’s leave now was the time to meet the New Lady. There were new crew arriving from all over the country so it was a continuous process getting everyone down to the ship by coach from the railway station. Even over 40 years later I can remember Glasgow and Greenock living up to their respective reputations weather wise. It was cold , grey, raining and pretty miserable all round.
 When our coach finally arrived at the ship not much apart from a wall of steel stretching forever both height and lengthwise was to be seen. Alongside the wall was a huge amount of activity going on dockside with various gangways leading into the vast steel wall of the ship. Cranes were swinging materials onto the decks above and from a distance what looked like an army of worker ants were unloading an endless stream of trucks and lorry’s and carrying who knows what into the ship.
We were directed to the crew gangway and hoisting our bags were led aboard. We were led through a number of passages and directed to the Double Down room  where about 10 tables were lined up on which 2/3 alphabetic letters  were attached and were told to line up according to our surname.    We were then signed on, our seaman’s book stamped and were given our cabin number/ key and a map of the ship. We were then given an hour to sort ourselves out and report to our work stations for further orders.

At that time the ship itself appeared to be in utter chaos. Everywhere you looked there were wires hanging from the ceiling, huge rolls of carpet yet to be laid. Piles of furniture stacked everywhere. Tradesmen hammering and sawing , electricians screwing in lights and attachments. Exposed pipe work being welded and trolleys carrying a plethora of boxes carrying, who knows what being pushed or pulled in every direction .
Even at this very early stage you could start to see the whole concept of the QE2 was completely different to her predecessor.  Gone were the inlaid polished wood on the walls and cabinets to be replaced by more modern materials of very vibrant colours on both the walls and ceilings. The Double Down room itself was enormous being split between two decks which were joined by a vast sweeping staircase. There was lots of natural light from the huge windows which had replaced the old port holes . The furniture and light fittings were very up to date and the shapes of the rooms and staircases were certainly like nothing to be seen on the Queen Elizabeth 1. Everything was brand new. I saw crew men I knew wearing very modern light brown jackets and white roll neck topos rather than their old white starched jackets.
Our cabin which we eventually found was amazing. It was not much smaller than our cabin on the old lizzy but slept 4 rather than 12. It was fitted out with good size lockers and draws and showers and loos were much closer and nicer than the old days. We only had a few days to settle in before we set off on our shakedown cruise to the Canary Islands. This was to give everyone a chance to settle into their new “home” and test out all aspects of the ship as we were due to leave for New York on our Maiden Voyage in January. A large number of practise   “passengers” were made up of John Brown and Cunard Staff and their families plus a strong army of tradesmen who were working on the final touches to bring everything together for our arrival in Southampton.

During this trip we were all learning our way around the ship. Where we were and were not allowed to go, with over 800 crew on board very strict rules had to be kept to ensure security and comfort for the passengers. In most cases crew were restricted in passenger areas to their place of work only Restaurant stewards would only ever see the passengers in their restaurant etc etc.
We had to find not only where our areas of work were but the easiest way to get to them ( normally via the working alleyway)  the position of main stores and work stations, the layout of kitchens and restaurants etc etc. All the galley equipment had to be fully tested along with freezers, lifts, communication methods. !000’s of meals had to be prepared and served, passenger cabins cleaned and tidied on a daily basis. The various bars/ shops/ hairdressers/ swimming pools/ turkish baths and disco’s all had to operated as they would on a regular cruise.  Whilst the crew were trying to get their head around all this newness the tradesmen travelling with us were still working flat out trying to finish the seemingly endless list of jobs to get the ship into a fit state for her maiden voyage.

Tragedy struck on the 23rd December when the main turbines broke down mid ocean. One minute we were cruising along on a fairly flat sea in warm sunny weather and suddenly darkness. Everything just stopped. All lighting switched to emergency lighting only, the forward momentum of the ship seemed to just fall away. Apart from a gentle roll we were stationary mid ocean somewhere near North Africa.
Along with 95% of those on board I was completely in the dark as to what was going on apart from the ship was at a standstill in mid ocean. The background noise of the engines was no longer there and every engineer you saw looked very worried and was moving fast to wherever they were going.  I remember walking along the working alleyway towards my cabin and seeing half a dozen engineers pretty much collapsed on the deck with heat exhaustion. I think they had been trying to keep the turbines moving manually.  A group of us sorted out a supply of cold drinking water very quickly to help them out. After a short break they went back into the engine room.  as they opened the door from the engine room the heat hit you like a furnace. I was told after wards that the temperature reached in excess of 140 dgs.  They eventually managed to jerry rig the engines and we limped back to Southampton on the 2nd January 1970.

After all the build up this was a nightmare for the marketing people. Cunard refused to accept the ship from the builders and the planned maiden voyage was cancelled along with 5 additional North Atlantic crossings. Hundreds of passengers who had pre booked had to change their plans and a crew of over 800 had to be kept busy with no money coming in! Since the original breakdown the old sages amongst the crew ( of which there were many) were only too happy to give out dire warnings that the QE2” like her predecessor  the Titanic was doomed for tragedy on her maiden voyage and the trouble we had had so far was a warning. When we asked them why they were on the ship if they thought she was doomed to tragedy they would just start mumbling and walk off shaking their heads.
Most of the crew were sent home on standby leave which I believe was on half pay

It wasn’t until the 2nd of May that we finally set off on our maiden voyage
« Last Edit: Feb 15, 2015, 12:05 PM by Rob Lightbody »

Online Rob Lightbody

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Re: Joining the QE2 16th December 1968
« Reply #1 on: Feb 15, 2015, 12:19 PM »
That's a fantastic story Bryce, thanks so much for sharing.  I've added a link to your previous QE post where you mentioned it.

I take it you were too busy living it, to take photos of it?  If only there had been digital cameras back then!
Passionate about QE2's service life for 37 years and creator of this website.  Worked in IT for 27 years and created my personal QE2 website in 1994.

Online Lynda Bradford

Re: Joining the QE2 16th December 1968
« Reply #2 on: Feb 17, 2015, 09:32 AM »
Thanks Bryce for this amazing story and wonderful to think that you were there for what became part of QE2's history that has been written in many books but not from the perspective of crew.  Looking forward to hearing more about your time onboard QE2.
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank

Online cunardqueen

Re: Joining the QE2 16th December 1968
« Reply #3 on: Feb 17, 2015, 01:44 PM »
Fasinating ! look forward to hearing some more from the very early days and from a crew perspective.
From the moment you first glimpsed the Queen,
 you just knew you were in for a very special time ahead.!

Offline June Ingram

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Re: Joining the QE2 16th December 1968
« Reply #4 on: Feb 17, 2015, 03:57 PM »
Thank you, Bryce, for your awesome commentary and insight.  To hear these details from someone aboard at that time is amazing and very much appreciated.  Please write more whenever you can. 

June   :)
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Online Isabelle Prondzynski

Re: Joining the QE2 16th December 1968
« Reply #5 on: Feb 17, 2015, 09:00 PM »
What a wonderful story! And your memory is superb -- you tell it as though it all happened last week. But then, of course, it must have been a HUGE adventure in your life, and a memorable one -- I am sure you followed the QE2 story over the years ever since then.

I am very much looking forward to the next chapter!

Take your time, there is no rush, and this Forum is here to stay and of course here to listen and hear. You have a better story to tell than almost every one of us, and it has started so beautifully.

The let-down must have been enormous after the shake-down voyage. What did you do yourself until QE2 sailed again?


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