March 4, 2011
We Are Cunard
Welcome to the third of four special Blogs celebrating the first Rendezvous of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 in Sydney. Over those two amazing days the city was buzzing with excitement but on the second day there was a more poignant occasion as Cunard commemorated the arrival of the first Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary as troop ships in 1941. Cunard’s President and Managing Director, Peter Shanks was there and takes up the story;
President and Managing Director
On Queen Mary 2’s second day in Sydney I was honoured to be at an event that was to prove remarkable. Here we were in Sydney Harbour with Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2, 70 years to the month from when Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary met in Sydney in 1941. They were there to take Australian troops to support the war effort in Singapore, and we had decided some time back to see if we could find any Australian Veterans to join us to commemorate the occasion. Let me describe the scene;
- Queen Mary 2 is berthed at the Garden Island Naval Base, surrounded by the Australian Fleet
- There are 50 young cadets in uniform to help our Veteran guests up the gangway; remarkably we had found 72 veterans who had set sail on Queen Mary in 1941, and their average age today is 92 years old
- We were very pleased to be honoured by the presence of the head of the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force who were there with other dignitaries to pay tribute to these remarkable men
- We met on the aft deck with a view over Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Navy Band stood to attention, a Guard of Honour took their position and many hundreds of our guests watched from the higher decks.
I my speech I said;
‘On behalf of Cunard Line and those of us who are proud custodians of the Line’s 170 year heritage, it is an honour to be in the presence of veterans who, seventy years ago sailed to war on Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. I am sure many memories are flooding back to you today. For every one of you marching on board was a sentinel moment in your life. Like you, we know that behind the smiles and the high spirits, there was also the grim reality of war. For many of your mates who sailed out of Sydney Harbour it was to be their last sight of home. We salute your efforts and you will be forever remembered with greatest respect by Cunard Line. Lest We Forget’
We went on to lay wreath, provide a blessing, a hymn and a very moving Ode, Last Post and Rouse.
Shortly after we sang the Australian and British National Anthems, and as we gazed out into Sydney Harbour lost in reflection of the moment, into view came Queen Elizabeth as she sailed past on her way out of Sydney. Yes there were tears all round.
Remarkable and Great Men…… This is a lovely picture of one of the veterans alongside the wreaths. What is remarkable is that this gentleman in his mid-90’s, brought with him the very kit bag and hat that he took up the Queen Mary gangway in 1941.
A humbling story to stop you in your tracks….I had a long chat with a 92 year old Veteran by the name of Charles Edwards; a remarkable man. He told me how he sailed to Singapore on Queen Mary in 1941, went into battle and then spent 1,301 days in a Prisoner of War Camp. I was listening to his story in awe and could not speak. He described that he did not see daylight for many months with his job being in the kitchens to prepare the rice and cabbage water for his colleagues. He described day 1,301. He was in the dark, in the kitchens, when an incredible white light came through the cracks of the walls. He looked across to his friend who had a white halo light above his head, white light surrounded them both and he described how that was his time, he was passing to a different world, and strangely it seemed painless and he was almost relieved. But that was not the end; the light was followed by the kitchen doors blowing open and a hot sensation washing over them both. Charles then said ‘ As I walked out into the blinding light and warmth, I looked up and saw an enormous mushroom cloud, I was 60 kilometres from Hiroshima and for me the war was finally over’.
I was so humbled, I was in the presence of a great and beautiful man and I shall not forget meeting Charles Edwards, and his many colleagues.
The man who save Queen Mary…… Yes I am afraid there is more to this blog. In 1945 Cyril Butcher was serving in the air force flying 18 hour missions in Liberators out of Belfast, Northern Ireland. His task was to protect warships and convoys. Late in that day’s mission he spotted and attacked a U-Boat. He was unable to sink it and ran out of ammunition. As he flew on through a rain squall he was amazed to see he was right over Queen Mary in the mid Atlantic. He flew low over the ship and used his radio to warn the Queen Mary of the U-Boat lying just six miles ahead. Queen Mary immediately altered course and avoided the risk. Cyril Butcher from then on was known as ‘The man who saved Queen Mary’. And remarkably at 92 years young, here he was standing next to me on Queen Mary 2. And as you can see from the picture he looks as fit as a fiddle.
Amongst much camaraderie we treated the Veterans to lunch in the Britannia Restaurant. Of course the tucker was a little better that they had last time onboard a Cunard Line. They told us stories of smuggling a Kangaroo onboard, of drinking a little more beer on the ‘wet canteen’ that they should have, and of pretending to be a Senior Officer to grab a cabin rather than a bunk.
So we have certainly had a very interesting time down under. World Voyage Dinners, Press Conferences and Travel Agent Presentations, much time spent with our valued guests, the meeting of the two Queens, valuable time spent meeting with the ship’s company and a bridge climbed. But as I prepare to fly home the highlight of my trip is set in stone; I met Charles Edwards and I met Cyril Butcher and I feel humbled, privileged and enriched for having done so.
President and Managing Director
Thank you Peter for such a moving Blog. It is truly remarkable to look back and hear stories like this from such brave men.
Just after the Remembrance Service, visitors, guests and crew were able to see Queen Elizabeth leaving her berth at Circular Quay and make her way past her Flagship, and I’ll have pictures from both ships in the last part of our Sydney rendezvous Blogs on Monday.
Cheers for now, Alastair