Book Review – ‘RMS ‘Queen Mary’: The final voyage’ by David Bowen

By David Bowen, published January 2021


This book was published on the fiftieth anniversary of the retirement of the famous Cunard passenger liner Queen Mary. This ship was launched by Cunard to keep pace with fierce foreign competition on the transatlantic run, and started life in 1930 on the stocks at the Clydebank yard of John Brown and was known then prosaically as ‘Ship Number 534’. But there was nothing prosaic about her; she was planned to be the largest and most powerful liner yet built, and a vessel of grace and beauty. Her construction stopped in 1931 due to the economic slump and her abandoned skeleton rusted until 1934 when work started anew on a wave of popular enthusiasm and partly funded by the government.

Her 30 years in service had started in the heyday of prestige ocean liners and ended in their decline; people now preferred to fly. By 1961 the Queen Mary was carrying only a quarter of her passenger capacity. Sold for £1.2 million she has ended her days in a permanent berth as a hotel in Palm Beach, USA.

This book records her last voyage from her familiar waters of the Atlantic, southwards round Cape Horn and so into the Pacific and her final resting place in California.

The core of the book is derived from the insightful and engaging reminiscences of its captain and four passengers, two press articles and a miscellany of additional facts in appendix form.

Unsurprisingly the tone is affectionate, sentimental and regretful. Derived as it is from multiple sources it has variations in style, punctuation and format. It is illustrated by an assortment of unattributed and sometimes very small photographs and facsimile documents. There is no index and no bibliography. It is a simple compilation of previously published or other available material. The authority or qualifications of the three editors are unknown, and the reason for the book is unstated. The production quality is first class, though it is a small format book of A5 size.

Perhaps the way to approach and enjoy this book is as one would a family holiday scrap- book or album or diary, forgiving its lack of any academic pretensions and tolerating its quirks, informality and randomness. While this is a curious book in many ways it is engaging and will appeal particularly to those interested in passenger ships …

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Filed under: Atlantic | Post WW2 | Twentieth Century
Subjects include: Historic Vessels, Museums & Restoration | Ocean Liners & Passenger Craft

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