Author Topic: My time aboard QE2  (Read 996 times)

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Offline Bob Higginson

My time aboard QE2
« on: Jul 19, 2019, 11:09 AM »
Thought it time to share my story and my love for QE2 :D.
My short career with the most famous shipping line in the world, aboard one of the most influential transatlantic liners of all time.

My life with Cunard and aboard
RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 1971-1975


The spark was first ignited in1963, I was just 8 years old, Dad took me to Plymouth Navy Day where we had a tour of HMS Eagle. It was a day I remember well, I was so in awe of the amazing Royal Navy Carrier that from that day on I was determined I was going to sea!

I was not the most focused of students. Teachers had never heard of dyslexia and ADHD so my school days were not fun. I never took an exam at school as it was considered a waste of time for me. These were less enlighten times. Thankfully children today get dealt a better hand.
The first opportunity I got to leave, I was gone, Fortunately, The National Sea Training School in Gravesend, Kent saw some potential in me (or were desperate) and I was accepted as a student.
I had harboured dreams of working aboard the world famous QE2 for sometime and whilst I was at Gravesend I wrote to Cunard to ask for work. Their short and negative reply was very disappointing.

During my 12 weeks intense training at the National Sea Training School (NSTS) I studied Catering, Lifeboat and Firefighting skills. Surprisingly I found all the practical subjects interesting and enjoyable. They captivated my interest so I worked hard. We were taught all aspects of catering from hygiene, silver service and general stewardship. We were shown how to operate firefighting equipment, including breathing apparatus plus lifeboat drills, which involved regular rowing on the Thames, and are skills which remain with me today.

The past struggles of school seemed a distant memory and I was soon awarded Leading Hand Status at the NSTS. I felt proud wearing my uniform with my new found rank displayed on my arm. I eventually passed all the tests and exams and was ready for a life at sea. At last I had a little self-confidence.

My first task was enrol with the pool at Avonmouth Docks and see what was on offer. I was given only one choice and that was pack my kitbag get on a train and head for Tilbury Docks. I was to join the MV British Patrol, this was a rather elderly tramp steamer operating in the North Sea.

MV British Patrol was a BP Tanker, (11,380 GRT which is very small by today’s standards) and for 3 months we tramped to and forth visiting many countries including Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium. I can assert that the North Sea, the Baltic, the Irish Sea and the English Channel can be pretty inhospitable during the winter months!
It was three months of sheer hell for a naive fifteen year old and a real eye opener, working under the supervision of an old sea dog cook who enjoyed a tipple. I peeled potatoes, prepared vegetables by the bucket load, cleaned and scrubbed the decks and transported meals from the aft galley to the midships mess. On more than one occasion all was lost overboard, a real baptism of fire you might say! (The MV British Patrol later suffered a catastrophic fire and was scrapped).

I suffered from seasickness but was still expected to function as a member of the crew. Galley boy was my position and I was just one step up from the ship’s cat. After three months of this I found myself back at Tilbury with an option to sign off, which I took in the blink of an eye. I made tracks for home as fast as possible to share my experience with Mum & Dad.  Unfortunately, I got home to find the rest of my family had gone off on holiday. I decided to give the pool a call and ask if they had a passenger ship in need of someone with my limited skill set. Hoping to perhaps get work with the Union Castle Line, maybe join the Windsor, Pendennis or Edinburgh Castle, as I had heard that this was an easier life than working on commercial ships, where time ashore was unlikely and miles from civilisation. To my utter amazement I was told if I jumped on the next train to Southampton the QE2 needed a commis waiter!

The next three and a half years were to shape my life.

I first saw QE2 alongside Ocean Terminal in Southampton and was immediately captivated by her sheer size and grandeur, it was love at first sight.

Awestruck, I was directed to the crew office on six deck where I was given my role for the next few weeks.
I quickly settled in to the routine and over the next few months I was assigned as Commis Waiter to the Britannia Restaurant, Columbia Restaurant and Queens Grill. The work was hard but the tips and the adventure made it all very worthwhile! During this time I gained many new skills whilst sailing around the Mediterranean, the Fjords and also spent several months in the sunny Caribbean.

The winter months were the most difficult commuting between Southampton, Cherbourg and New York with little or no time ashore. Eventually an opportunity presented itself to go ashore in New York and I was blown away by this amazing city.

After getting my first leave I was off home to share all this with my family. The last time I had seen them was six months before when I was on my way to Tilbury. They were very proud of me and everyone wanted to know what I had been up to.

Over the years I met many interesting people and had the most fascinating time visiting many countries. My roles changed frequently, starting as a Commis Waiter I was also assigned to work in the Radio Room, Telephone Exchange, Theatre and Bureau de Change. When I turned 18 I was promoted to Assistant Steward, then Steward and finally First Class Saloon Steward where I often covered for the Head Waiters. To the officers surprise I switched to the night gang for the ’75 Premier World Cruise, to get as much time ashore as possible whilst visiting the most exotic places in the world.

Following the World Cruise the QE2 had six months plying the Atlantic before returning to the Caribbean. Still suffering from sea sickness on transatlantic crossings I made the decision, with hindsight the worst decision of my life, and left the employ of the Cunard Line for a life ashore in the family business.

Regretting my decision, I tried on numerous occasions to return but this was the Seventies, times were changing and crew were now being sourced from other countries.

All I had were my memories but wow what memories! I had had the most amazing four years a teenager could have experienced.  I owe a lot to Cunard I learned a lot and sadly gave little in return, but so proud to have been a member of Crew of the most memorable and iconic ships of her generation.

Life ashore was completely alien to me and took some adjusting. I joined the family business and worked with my father for over 20 years. After the business was sold I started
my own business and after 23 years in the security industry I relocated to Brixham.

Having now retired I have the pleasure of owning and managing The Brixham Steam Packet Company and Chart Room First Class Coffee Lounge.
I am now surrounded by many Cunard Collectables and lots and lots of QE2 memorabilia. The Brixham Steam Packet Company trades in Antique marine and Ocean Liner Collectables. The Chart Room has become a very popular meeting place for “Cunarders," visitors and locals; we even have a Cunard “Wall of Fame” where we invite Officers and Crew to sign their names.  My way of paying tribute and offering my thanks to The Cunard Steam Ship Company and all the many friends I made on the journey and for playing such an important role in my life.

The Lounge and shop were opened by fellow crew member Commodore Ron Warwick and his lovely wife Kim, who are regular visitors.

I have done many things in my life but none can hold a light to the time I spent aboard QE2.

The last time I saw QE2 was on April 5th 1975. (44 years ago) I very much look forward to seeing her again soon in her new role as Queen Elizabeth 2 Hotel in Dubai.

Thank-you Cunard and thank-you QE2
Bob Higginson
Commis Waiter-First Class Saloon Steward  QE2 1971-75
www.brixhamsteampacket.co.uk


« Last Edit: Mar 04, 2021, 10:12 AM by Rob Lightbody »
Bob Higginson

Online Andy Holloway

Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #1 on: Jul 19, 2019, 02:44 PM »
Bob,

Really interesting to read of your Cunard experience.

I only live up the road in Cullompton so - one day- my wife and i will come down to Brixham and visit your emporium, there could even be a business opportunity there somewhere!!  See my post reference Cunard Crockery!!!

Offline June Ingram

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Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #2 on: Jul 20, 2019, 12:22 AM »
Thank you so much, Bob, for sharing your memories of going to sea and your time aboard QE2 !   :)
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Online Lynda Bradford

Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #3 on: Jul 20, 2019, 12:20 PM »
Bob,  I so much enjoyed reading your amazing story and seeing the photos on the document you posted (see attached)

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for you, aged 15 on the BP Tanker, but it just goes to show as one door closed another opened as with you making the choice of leaving the ship, returning home to find your family away on holiday and ending up onboard QE2 - a dream come true.

It is good to know that you are still keeping the memory of QE2 through the Brixham Steam Packet Company
« Last Edit: Feb 24, 2021, 08:15 PM by Rob Lightbody »
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank
www.qe2event.com

Offline Clydebuilt1971

Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #4 on: Jul 22, 2019, 01:08 PM »
THIS is what this forum is all about!

Thanks Bob!!

Gav

Online Thomas Hypher

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Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #5 on: Jul 23, 2019, 04:35 PM »
Welcome aboard Bob! Great to see you here :) . I am hoping to visit your shop if I ever end up at Britannia Naval College for a bit (Not too far between Dartmouth and Brixham it seems).
First sailed on QE2 in August 2003 aged 6 years old. Last stepped foot and sailed on QE2 in July 2008. Last saw the seagoing QE2 in person from the decks of QM2, on QE2's last Transatlantic crossing (Eastbound tandem) in October 2008. Visited QE2, in her new life, in Dubai back in January 2020.

Online Graham Taylor

Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #6 on: Jul 23, 2019, 08:09 PM »
Welcome aboard Bob! Great to see you here :) . I am hoping to visit your shop if I ever end up at Britannia Naval College for a bit (Not too far between Dartmouth and Brixham it seems).

Well worth a visit in any case. Brixham is a short ferry ride (either passenger or vehicle) from Dartmouth to Kingswear and its excellent steam railway, then a short drive or the local #18 bus into Brixham.

Online Rob Lightbody

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Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #7 on: Mar 04, 2021, 10:13 AM »
I'm ashamed to say I only just read this, but I really enjoyed it, thanks very much Bob.
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.

Offline Rod

Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #8 on: Mar 04, 2021, 12:53 PM »
Yes Rob, me too. Very interesting. Especially as I was an Apprentice/Cadet for some of that time.

Online Rob Lightbody

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Re: My time aboard QE2
« Reply #9 on: Mar 04, 2021, 01:39 PM »
Yes Rob, me too. Very interesting. Especially as I was an Apprentice/Cadet for some of that time.

Did you see the attachment he added only the first post too?
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.