November 13, 2008
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Updates
We probably use the word “Historic” rather a lot on this Blog but Tuesday’s Farewell to QE2 in Southampton was that and so much more. Before we get this week’s emotional events, here is “This week in Cunard’s History” for the week of the 7th to the 13th November:
November 7 1970
QE2 makes her maiden Call Durban, South Africa
November 8 1999
Queen Mary 2 General Plans are completed and the first images are released
November 12 1931
The Georgic is launched at Harland & Wolf in Belfast and becomes part of the Cunard Fleet in January 1934.
November 12 1999
Carnival Corporation acquires the 32% of Cunard it did not already own, thus taking control of 100% of the company.
November 12 2007
Crew move on board the Queen Victoria for the first time
It was a day of mixed emotions on Tuesday as QE2 come to her home port for the 726th and final time on Tuesday 11th November and her home city came out in their thousands to say their own farewells to a legendary ship that has been part of their history for the last 39 years, since she came in to service in 1969. I know you will have seen so many reports already, but I will do my best to add my perspective, and try to do justice to an event that was nothing short of momentous.
I always enjoy seeing the ships in their berths as you come in to Southampton but there is nothing quite like the red funnels of Cunard liners and to see QE2 at the berth of her namesake was a poignant moment which stirred many memories and emotions. Southampton was clearly gearing up for the event with special car parks, a big screen in Mayflower Park and TV crews filming all day capturing this amazing day.
Before I arrived in Southampton QE2 was part of the commemorations for Armistice Day (a veteran of service herself during the 1982 Falklands conflict), as one million poppy petals were dropped on her decks in the morning. His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh paid his own tribute at a special reception in the presence of senior officers past and present.
Despite the incredible hard work involved over the last few months of special voyages you had the sense of all the crew pulling out the stops to make this a fitting farewell for such a beloved Queen. The time came that I had to disembark for the last time as she prepared for her sailaway celebrations and yes the Band on the shore side were playing ”Land of Hope and Glory” as I went down the gangway – did they see me?
Meeting on a balcony overlooking her final Southampton berth I was able to enjoy witnessing one final moment of tradition. President and Managing Director, Carol Marlow introduced QE2’s Master, Captain Ian McNaught who presented the Mayor of Southampton a “Paying Off Pennant” as is tradition when a ship leaves her homeport for the last time. The magnificent pennant was 39 feet long representing each year of service and it was a very emotional moment for us all as the reality of the event, of her final departure, struck us.
Then for the last time QE2 gracefully let go of her lines from Southampton to a massive cheer from those on board and on shore, and on the QE2 Terminal balcony everyone crammed as close to the rails as possible to get their final view of a legend that has been described as the closest a ship could be to being human. As she gently moved away from the berth the ships rails were also packed with guests, and you could see crew, still at work in the restaurants and staterooms, stopping work for just a moment to be part of an unforgettable moment.
QE2 reversed gently to alongside Mayflower Park and as that wonderful whistle blew a salute to her hometown. That was the cue for a magnificent firework display which lit the night sky – no-one in the surrounding area could have missed this very special tribute.
It was quite strange for me having spent so many years at sea, and normally part of these events on board, to witness history from another perspective – from the pier. But it was so fantastic to see the affection that QE2 has quite deservedly gained, and to see that amongst those gathered on the shore side.
We got our final glimpse of the legendary Queen as she passed us for one final time and someone spontaneously shouted “Three cheers for QE2”. Everyone responded with a heartfelt “hip hip hooray” and started hugging one another to share the moment.
As I left in my car I listened to the radio to hear all the reports of QE2’s progress towards the Isle of Wight and the excitement generated by visitors and residents of Southampton. This was a day which no one will ever forget and everyone will have their own personal thoughts and memories as we saw that distinctive red funnel slip into the night. Personally all I could feel was pride that I had been privileged to have had the opportunity to serve on such an amazing ship and was delighted to see that Southampton had said good bye in a true elegant style befitting a legendary Queen.