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Sydney Royal Rendezvous Part Three – Time To Remember

March 4, 2011

We Are Cunard

Posted in: Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2, Updates

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’s Blog

Peter Shanks

President and Managing Director

Cunard Line

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.

Best Regards

Peter Shanks

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

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  1. John Maclean says:

    Hi,
    We are sailing on the Queen Mary 2 on 19th March from Hong Kong to Southampton. I am trying to find out if Dr. Martin Carroll is still on board as Senior Medical Officer. He asked us to let him know when we were next on board. If you could pass him a message I would be grateful.
    John and Lynne Maclean
    Exeter

  2. Philomena Walbert says:

    Your recount of the many commemorative activities brought tears to my eyes. Cunard proudly and humbly remembers, cherish and shares its rich heritage.

  3. Chris & Margaret Rose says:

    Hi Alistair,
    What a moving blog from Peter Shanks.
    None of us should ever forget the supreme sacrifice made so we can enjoy a relatively
    peaceful life albeit with so much other turmoil going on in parts of the world.
    As always, Cunard represents the UK so well and I am sure there will be many memories of the Royal Rendezvous in Sydney.
    Thank you

  4. Rob Holloway says:

    Excellent, a truly moving moment to honour those who have given us our freedoms.
    It is just fantastic that a company like Cunard thought of this fitting occasion and carried out the operation.
    I’m quite sure this must have meant a lot to the veterans and their families.

  5. Beryl Moss says:

    Have read this blog several times because it has such moving content. These men along with many others risked their lives in the hope of giving the world peace but unfortunately we all still live in a world full of turmoil. Looking forward to reading the final blog of the Sydney rendevous

  6. Dear Alistair
    My wife, Mary, and I had the privilege of being on board Queen Mary 2 when the ceremony took place. It was most moving, impeccably carried out and a credit to Cunard. It was especially poignant to see the old soldiers being honoured in such a fitting way. Thank you Cunard for doing it.
    Regards Keith Jones

  7. Tom Morgan says:

    I, too, had tears in my eyes at the end of the blog. The story about Mr. Edwards was particularly moving. I am so glad to be a “participant” in these events via this blog and look forward to sailing into Sidney harbor some day–on board one of the Queens, of course.

  8. mary murdoch says:

    wondereful stories of these very brave men and great pictures of the ceremonies thank you mary

  9. Daryl Cooper says:

    Further query on Queen Elizabeth Bridge Cam. What time zone do Cunard use when Queen Mary 2 on March 7, 2011 is showing same time as A.E.S.T. i.e 14:40 as just logged onto “Cam” and vessel is tied up @ Guam. Queen Elizabeth is showing some other time and I have to refresh 3 times to observe current date, again without any caption or markers as to where she is?

  10. Judith Sayers says:

    Well done Cunard for taking the time to honour these special men.Their stories are amazing, we all owe them so much, for the part they played.

  11. tony mac says:

    Merchant navy veterans are the bravest we went to war unarmed.

  12. Vivienne Percy says:

    I was moved to tears reading about Charles Edwards. What an incredible man, and just one of so many who suffered in the dark days of WW2. I thank Cunard for honouring these remarkable men. Vivienne Percy

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