On my June 2009 travel on the Queen Mary 2 I was seated next to a lovely couple for Florida. They have been long time Cunarders and told me how they got into ‘cruising’.
Years ago, as a very young couple, they travelled on the Queen Elizabeth, the original one. They lacked the money to travel First Class but they got a good glimpse of it. They found a spot from where they could watch the ladies walk down the stairs in their splendid evening gowns at dinner times. That’s what got them hooked. They later travelled on the S.S. France, The United States and quickly became Cunard Diamond members. Their story reminds me of ‘The Forgotten Queen’ and her tragic ending. Let me tell you a little about ‘Lizzie’ as she was affectionately called by her friends.
RMS Queen Elizabeth
was a really tragic Queen that was denied a peaceful life in retirement. She was one of the most elegant ocean liners, aptly dubbed ‘The Beautiful Lady’, who went into service on Sep 27, 1938. Built by John Brown & Company in Clydebank, Scotland she was the second of the two superliners (the other being Queen Mary) which Cunard had built for the New York service. With the war looming, her maiden voyage was cancelled and soon she and her sister found themselves in a very different role as troopships for the British Navy. Their speed allowed them to outrun the German U-Boats.
After the war, both ocean liners dominated the Transatlantic route. As her name indicates she was a Royal Mail Ship contracted to carry the Royal Mail across the big pond. Decline set in with the coming of the jet airliners and she became uneconomic for Cunard. She was sold to a group of businessmen in Philadelphia who intended to run the ship as a hotel and tourist attraction in Port Everglades, Florida. The RMS Queen Elizabeth made its last Atlantic crossing on 5 November 1968.
However, she did not last long: Losing money and forced to close after being declared a fire hazard, the ship was sold in 1970 to Hong Kong tycoon C.Y. Tung who intended to convert her into a floating university named Seawise University. She arrived in Hong Kong in July 1971 and was scheduled to open after an expensive refit in 1972, however, it never came to that.
On January 9, 1972 several fires broke out on the ship and she capsized in shallow water in Hong Kong Victoria Harbour. With her destruction so utter and complete she was dismantled for scrap in 1975. What a tragic end to the career of one of the World’s greatest, fastest and most luxurious liners.
There is quite some confusion as to whether the ship was entirely salvaged or not. Many sources on the internet, including Wikipedia quote that parts of the hull that could not be salvaged were later incorporated into landfill for the new Hong Kong Airport.
Ringo Varisco, Curator of the RMS Queen Elizabeth Historical Society, and author of a Queen Elizabeth book scheduled to be published in Fall 2010 explains:
To clear up all the confusion, the 15,000 or so tons which still remain of the Seawise University – the former RMS Queen Elizabeth, are now buried under about 40 feet of mud in the middle of the Rambler Channel which is the stretch of water that separates Tsing Yi Island and mainland Kowloon. The remains are no where near the new airport and have never been covered by a runway as has often been mistakenly claimed. The wreck was cut down as far as the waterline and then large sections were blasted apart underwater until all that remained was a 100 foot long section of double bottom hull containing the aft boiler rooms which were already mostly filled with the muddy sludge of the harbour bottom and deeply buried anyway. So to set the record straight, the original LIZZIE or what’s left of her, still has mud and then water above her, not a runway or other foundations. She was sufficiently buried deep enough to pose no threat to shipping. Her nearest landmarks are the Container Terminal 9 and the brand new Stonecutters bridge.
She even made it into film: The wreck of the Queen Elizabeth was featured in the Bond Movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ (1974) as a covert headquarters for the MI6. The event is commented on while James Bond is cruising on a boat from Macao to Hong Kong. The film commentary however is inaccurate as it mentions the year of the fire being 1971.
To many the Queen Elizabeth was the perfect Queen ever. It is comforting that somewhere on this Earth a part of here still exists, not just the memories of our minds.
If you are interested in more details about this wonderful ocean liner, you may find below list of film and book recommendations as well as links to interesting websites useful.
Top Ocean Liner 1948 is a wonderful video that give a tour of the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth as it docks in Southampton after a transatlantic voyage. Playtime is about 20 minutes.
I also recommend to watch the footage of RMS Queen Elizabeth during WWII
And finally, a recap of her life including some heart breaking pictures from her final days as Seawise University in Hong Kong.
On this occasion I’d like to take the liberty to point you to one website that is dedicated to this ship: http://rmsqueenelizabeth.com. If you have any interesting material like films or stories which you would like to see published here, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The site will grow over a time with the help of eye witnesses and Lizzie lovers.
Those interested in documentary drawings might want to check out Ringo Varisco´s post about a wonderful set of documentary drawings by Harry Philpot, founder of the RMS Queen Elizabeth Historical Society. Please click here.
In the library you will find a list of book recommendations from which I’d like to pick two for you: A relatively new book published in 2008 by Clive Harvey: ‘Queen Elizabeth – The Ulimate Ship which is an extremely authoritative, lavishly illustrated history of the ship.208 pages, 70 full-color and 108 b&w illustrations, two fold-out plans, cover painting by Don Stoltenberg, 8.25 x 10.75.
Anyone interested in the QE should read Leonard Stevens ‘Elizabeth: Passage of a Queen’. Unfortunately it is out of print but with a bit of luck you can find used copies on www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.com and on http://www.antiqbook.com
For those readers who would like to share photos of RMS Queen Elizabeth, may I invite you to visit the CunardQueens Member’s Gallery where you can create your own albums and upload your photos. Go straight to the Gallery or click on Member’s Gallery while browsing : http://rmsqueenelizabeth.com.
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