A second interlude with Queen Mary


Like some kind of history buff, I must admit that I didn’t know much about Queen Mary, the ship that was turned into a hotel docked at Long Beach in California. Nor did I really care about its significance especially in WWII. That was before Au and I decided to spend a day and night last weekend which was our second time to be there.

Sometime in the late 1990s, the Filipino American Business Association of Ventura County held a dance party at the hotel. Au and I arrived that evening and went straight to the function room. We really had no time to go around the ship as we had to be at the program and danced all night long. I was even feeling funny dancing and commented to Au, having been to several cruises already, that it felt weird partying in a non-moving ship when we had done so many times in ships bound for places.

At any rate, the Baguio General Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association (BGHSNAA) organizing committee has booked the Queen Mary to be the venue of association’s 2021 reunion. Au, a member of the committee, wanted to feel the ambiance of the hotel. That way, during their deliberations, she could stand on solid grounds or waters on her comments and suggestions.  After all, her birthday was coming and who am I to refuse her an advance celebration.

Arriving in the late afternoon, I felt immediately the ship’s immensity. The rays of the sinking sun, spread over the port side of the ship, forebode, to me, stories of antiquity, of historical significance. As we traversed the lobby to register, the question rattled in my mind: Why is the Queen Mary, presumably British in origin, in Long Beach? Unlike the first time where we had to rush to the function, even just ambling to the registration desk this time, the ship started to breathe its former life to me – the rustic wooden panel walls, the artistry on the ceilings, the remnants of what was kept carpets, spoke of luxury and what we would soon know deeper as service that precipitated the downfall of the Axis power during WWII.

Needless to say, that during our stay, I became a sponge, absorbing what I could about Queen Mary. No sooner than having billeted ourselves in our room, which was dotted with antique electric fans, and the like, even a toilet plunger, that we hurried to explore all the nooks of the ship we could get into – which continued the following day. Goodness gracious that cameras nowadays don’t run out of films anymore.

And this column will not suffice to depict the glory of Queen Mary.

Suffice to say that, rivaling the Titanic, the RMS Queen Mary had its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York, the USA on May 1936. Previously tagged as Project 534, Queen Mary had it christened after her. After all, it was England which provided the loan to the builder, Cunard, with the added demand that White Star, builder of the Titanic, be a partner builder.

Since then, the Queen Mary became the most luxurious cruise ship at that time, crossing the Atlantic with the richest and famous including entertainment personalities, politicians, and royalty. Her third-class passengers would have been in the first-class berths of the other cruise lines at that time.

Her glory days as luxurious were postponed when WWII erupted in Europe in 1939. Winston Churchill requisitioned her to serve in the war arena. He called the ship the ‘Gray Ghost’ as it was painted gray to camouflaged her, especially in the dark. Transporting troops, she traversed the seas in a zig-zagging manner to throw German submarines and U-boats off their radars.  Hitler had put a huge bounty on her for any submarine commander who could torpedo her. Unfortunately for the Germans, she could speed up to 40 knots while the enemy submarines could only do 20 knots. And if even if she was fired upon, torpedoes could only be propelled to 20 knots. Zigzagging at enormous speed to ferry troops, Churchill claimed that she cut short the war by a year and a half.

The greatest war accomplishment of the Queen Mary would, of course, be the transport of D-Day troops that invaded French back from the Germans. Another would be that designed only to carry a little over 3,000, she transported 16,683 troops back home after the war – a record that had not been topped to this day.

Shortly after the war, the Queen Mary resumed her postponed luxurious glory days until economics took its toll. Within the sixties, air travel had become more popular than ocean voyages had become cumbersome. In an effort to cut losses, Cunard put the Queen Mary on a bidding sale. Among the bidders was New York which wanted to transform the ship into a high school. Almost everyone was sure that Philadelphia would have gotten it for its planned floating casino. However, Long Beach in California won the bidding to the tune of $3,450,000.00.

Thus, on December 9, 1967, the Queen Mary completed its 1001st journey as it blared its horn to dock in Sunny California and begin life as the iconic hotel it is today.

Having said all this, the theme adopted by the BGHSNAA, ‘Travelling back in Time’, for their 2021 reunion is most fitting for the function at the venue.  The BGH School of Nursing closed its portals in 1984. In her 61 years, the school had produced 3,885 graduates who served and are serving, sharing their Tender Loving Care (TLC) to patients all over the world. Holding their reunion at the Queen Mary would be an intertwining reminiscence of, truly, two glorious pasts.

The Nightingale’s Light is forever lit. # nordis.net