The Community of Clydebank
In 1931, towering over the brownstones of the town of Clydebank, Scotland, the skeleton of a great ocean vessel was taking form at the John Brown & Company shipyard. Known only as a number- 534, this ship, the local shipyard workers, and the entire world would soon battle the mighty storm of the Great Depression. Nearly three years would pass while construction ceased, and the local community began facing poverty. Miraculously, funding became available to finish the rusting leviathan. Christened by Her Majesty, Queen Mary on September 26th, 1934, the ship was finally given a name… hers. To the citizens of Clydebank, the RMS Queen Mary became a symbol of pride and a remembrance of security, stability, and hope that her construction offered.
The Celebrity and Immigration Community
From 1936 to 1939, the RMS Queen Mary was the pride of Great Britain and the flagship of her owners, the Cunard White Star Line. Sailing her normal route between Southampton, England, and New York, she soon proved to be strong-built, safe and powerful. She would eventually hold the title of “The Blue Riband,” representing the shortest time to cross the North Atlantic of any passenger vessel. The crème of Hollywood, royalty, political and social society chose ‘the Mary’ (as she was affectionately known) regularly to travel in style across the North Atlantic. It was also the Mary that carried thousands of immigrating families to North America, escaping racial and religious persecution that was steadily growing in Nazi Germany and Italy. For these families, the Mary would be their magic chariot, whisking them safely to the ‘New World’ in a level of comfort that most of them had never experienced before. She would forever remain a cherished part of their family’s legacy.
Wartime and the Greatest Generation
As war in Europe erupted in late 1939, the Queen Mary’s reputation for speed would take on a new meaning, as she was requisitioned by the British Admiralty and transformed into a troop transport vessel. Painted in battleship grey, often using the cover night and fog arriving or departing, she was cleverly nicknamed, ‘The Grey Ghost.’ Aiding in multiple campaigns in North Africa and Western Europe, she transported nearly 800,000 Australian, British, American, and Canadian troops to “challenge the fury of Hitlerism” between 1940 and 1945. For the thousands of the ‘Greatest Generation’ that sailed to war on the Mary and returned home safely, she would remain in their hearts and memories as a guardian angel. In addition to her wartime career, she would also partake in ‘Operation Baby Carriage’ in which she transported thousands of British and European war-brides and infants to be reunited with their American and Canadian military husbands and fathers.
Refugees, the Middle-Class & StudentS
With the winds of war becoming a distant memory, the RMS Queen Mary returned to regular peace-time passenger service in 1947. Her post-war years could not be better defined, than by the words of Charles Dickens… “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” As her public popularity began to grow in the 1950’s, her loyal passengers soon abandoned ocean travel in favor of the newly developed trans-Atlantic jet airliner. Travel across ‘the pond’ could now be done in less than 8 hours, compared to 4 days aboard the Queen Mary. With a capacity of nearly 2,000 passengers, by the 1960’s, she would sometimes sail with less than 200. Her owner, the Cunard Line attempted to attract the traveling public who could not afford the luxury of jetting off at 30,000 feet. Expanded accommodations in lower classes and reduced fares attracted many middle-class families to experience a family vacation in Europe or the United States. By the 1960’s, the Queen Mary began deviating from her normal sailing route, offering cruises to Nassau, Gibraltar, and the Canary Islands. Young college students wishing to travel abroad, often chose sailing aboard the Mary, sharing their 4-person berth cabins with fellow students. During this time, the Soviet Union began to occupy much of Eastern Europe, creating thousands of refugees that eventually would immigrate to America. Many of these refugees sailed aboard the Mary. Whether by necessity or leisure, for these passengers, the Queen Mary would become a symbol of opportunity- an opportunity to escape tyranny, or the opportunity to experience a memorable and sentimental journey.
Long Beach, The Queen Mary, and the Local Community
On December 9th, 1967, after sailing 39 days from Southampton, England, the RMS Queen Mary arrived in Long Beach, California. It was the end of her ‘Last Great Cruise’ and the end of her sea-going career. With the City of Long Beach becoming her new owner, she was soon transformed from an ocean liner to a public tourist attraction, museum, hotel, restaurants, events, and convention venue. She would reopen her doors to tourists and the local community on May 8th, 1971. Since that day, the Queen Mary has touched the hearts and minds of millions of visiting guests. She has offered locals and tourists the chance to journey back in time and experience what ocean travel was like during the early-mid 20th century. For the local community, there are multiple generations of children that grew up in Long Beach and Southern California who had the opportunity to visit the Queen Mary at least once during a grade school class field trip. Many later revisited the Queen Mary in their teenage years for a high school formal dance or Prom. The Queen Mary became a symbol of their coming of age. Thousands of local visitors have experienced a private event on board or attended a holiday celebration party, such as the 4th of July, Halloween, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve. Some would go on to write a new chapter in their life’s story, choosing the Mary as the venue for their wedding… an option that was not available during her seagoing career.
From her early days of construction in 1930, spanning over 90 years to today, the RMS Queen Mary has always been a part of the community, both locally and worldwide. This beautiful ship has offered so much to so many people for nearly a century—and we must ensure that she will be able to touch the hearts and minds of new generations into the next century.