September 1, 2011
We Are Cunard
Queen Mary 2
It’s quite often you meet someone who either sailed in the original Queen Mary or had family who did. They often bring a photo, menu or Daily Programme from that early time and it is interesting to compare the then and now. Some is familiar and some has not continued. Many people travel Cunard as their parents and grandparents did. Part of a great tradition and loyalty.
However it is not often that you get to meet a guest who travelled on the original Queen Mary in that fine vessel’s first year in service and as a young person in their first job.
Gertrude Henderson was nearly 17 years old when she took the job as a ladies maid to Lady Craigie who was travelling to the U.S. from Southampton via Cherbourg. Lady Craigie was accompanying her husband Sir Robert Craigie to Japan to take up the post of British ambassador, travelling transatlantic on Cunard, of course, then across North America to the west coast from where they would take another vessel to Yokohama for Tokyo. Lady Craigie was short of a maid and young Gertrude, from Wismar in Germany, was looking for a job. It all came together in Cherbourg.
Gertrude showed me her list of passengers titled RMS Queen Mary Wednesday August 4th 1937.
Her voyage was uneventful. The suite of rooms the family occupied was wonderful and memorable, beautiful wood panelling. Good food.
Following the outbreak of hostilities with Japan in 1941 the British mission left Japan and young Gertrude, as a German citizen could and did transfer to the German embassy to work there. She still has a trace of her German accent.
In the German Embassy, in wartime she knew and associated with Richard Sorge, the German journalist and secret communist working as a spy for the Soviets. She recalled his charming manners and social skills that made it possible for him to extract information vital to his masters. And later she wrote a short account of this.
She survived the events that brought the war against Japan to an end. Of the bombing of Tokyo she says ‘I was lucky’. After liberation, and following extensive interviews by the US intelligence forces she was cleared to go free. Her father had sent a message via Switzerland not to return home, the home town then being under Soviet control. She finally got permission to emigrate to the US and settled in California. She married an Englishman, Henderson, who was an entertainment director with Canadian Pacific Lines. A long and happy marriage. She kept her fitness and health into advanced years by playing tennis and walking.
Gertrude sailed on the recent transatlantic crossing from New York to Hamburg, en route to the town of her birth, Wismar, on Queen Mary 2. She had travelled from California unaccompanied and gets about using only a stick for assistance. She was visiting Wismar to celebrate her 100th birthday at an official event in her honour organised by the town mayor.