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Guest Stories

100 years on. And still crossing by Cunard.

September 1, 2011

We Are Cunard

Posted in: Guest Stories, Queen Mary 2

Guest Blog

Commodore Rynd

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.

Mrs Henderson in front of a painting of the vessel in which she sailed 74 years before

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.


  1. Grant Thomas says:

    What an amazing life story, and quite heartening to hear how she is still prepared to travel solo – even if from one side of the USA to the other :-)

  2. Josie says:

    I too had my first ” crossing ” on Cunard in 1948 aboard the Aquitania , from Southampton to Halifax , and what a wonderful adventure that was .
    As the waves lapped and occasionally slammed against the side of the enormous ship , I peered out of a salt encrusted porthole from my stand up on tippy toes always vigilant , always waiting with the impatience of a six year old to catch that first glimpse of land . The land of the cowboys and Indians that I fully expected to greet us , on horseback of course . Of this I was certain because that’s what I’d seen in the movie that was playing in Glasgow on the night before we’d boarded the train to take us to Southampton . Imagine if you can , my astonishment at finding elevators and shops on this ” big boat ” and perfectly starched white linen tablecloths in the dining room , where all manner of delicious foods were served to ladies and gentlemen , who appeared to me , to be dressed in their Sunday best every day .

  3. Peter Shanks says:

    Dear Josie – what a wonderful comment you have just posted.It is refreshing to know that although the world has moved on so far in the 63 years since you travelled on Aquitania – somethings just don’t change. I would hope that our guests boarding Queen Elizabeth in Southampton today would be equally excited to see our ‘perfectly starched while linen tablecloths’ and are looking forward to some ‘delicious foods’. Thanks so much for sharing your memories – very special indeed. Kind Regards. Peter Shanks.

  4. Margaret Tayler says:

    Hi Peter
    In your Blog on 22nd August you said you would be letting us know details of the QM2 refit due in November. Are these details available yet?

  5. judith sayers says:

    What a lovely story, only one question how is Gertrude getting back to the States?

  6. Beryl Moss says:

    Have just read this blog after returning from a very enjoyable cruise on Queen Elizabeth with my twin grandaughters who were on board to celebrate their 18th birthday. Before commenting on this blog I would just like to say how much they enjoyed the cruise and that they intend to cruise with Cunard in the future once they have saved up their pennies. Returning to this amazing story it was extremely interesting to read and congratulations to Gertrude on her 100th birthday.

  7. S. Nicol says:

    I love hearing all the stories of earlier travels on ships! I hope I am as fit and adventurous as Gertrude when I reach her age, and I hope I am still enjoying occasional voyages by sea!
    Can I also add that I was a bit apprehensive about our recent cruise on Queen Elizabeth following poor comments posted on the web. Life has been hectic since returning home, but I do want to let other readers know that our family (parents plus teenager) had a WONDERFUL time on the QE to the Med in August. Crew were friendly and helpful in the Lido, Britannia, Queen’s Room, our stateroom, on deck, at the pursers’ office, teen club, library, EVERYWHERE! Food was great. Enjoyed meeting new friends at our ‘Table’ and lots of friendly chats all round the ship. Enjoyed the entertainment we chose to ‘go to’. Enjoyed the tour through the galley and behind the scenes in the theatre. Loved the talk on the Bridge! More ‘behind the scenes’ things, please, Peter!
    Special ‘hello’ to all the crew we met from so many countries. Missing your smiles – and pancakes for breakfast from Jake!
    Looking forward to our next cruise!
    Thank you to all the crew and officers for making our holiday wonderful.

    The Nicol family.

  8. peter.shanks says:

    Margaret – we have decided just to wait a little longer before telling you all about our plans for the Queen Mary 2 refit in late November. Just putting the finsihing touches to some of the onboard experience enhancements – and then I can tell the full story. Rest assuired we will share it on the blog first. Kind Regards. Peter

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