On 5th March 1936 King Edward VIII (formerly the Prince of Wales) paid an extended tour of inspection of Queen Mary, at the shipyard. He was accompanied by Donald Skiffington, the shipyard director. He not only visited the Cabin Class areas as planned, he then insisted on touring the rest of the ship including the third class and the crew’s quarters. In all he spent over three hours aboard.
When the King and his party left, the ship’s sirens sounded for the first time, in salute to the occasion. In his private diary, the King later recorded: “The completion of … Queen Mary was an important public event in 1936. Early in March, while the vessel was undergoing her final fitting-out, I travelled to Glasgow with the object of calling the world’s attention to this stupendous product of British industrial skill.”
It was his father, King George V, at his speech during the launch in September 1934, who had given the liner the nickname that would stay with her all her working life: “The Stateliest Ship”.
Completion of Queen Elizabeth had been delayed at John Brown’s yard, as essential workers were diverted to work for the Royal Navy. However the UK government was aware of German interest in the new liner, and were concerned at maintaining her security and safety. Space at the yard was now desperately needed for warships. Finally, although not completed internally, on 26th February 1940 Queen Elizabeth made her way down the Clyde, using one of the few high tides to help her. That evening she anchored off the Tail of the Bank, and on 28th February completed very brief sea trials, after which Cunard officially took delivery. News sources released a false story that the liner was due to head for Southampton, and apparently the Germans accepted this, and even carried out extra raids on the docks, hoping to catch her.
In the early hours of 2nd March 1940, an Admiralty messenger boarded Queen Elizabeth, anchored in the Clyde, carrying sealed orders. The day before Cunard had been formally notified that Queen Mary had been requisitioned, and now Queen Elizabeth was to join her. The orders were opened and soon after, with an escort of four destroyers plus air cover, she headed out into the Atlantic. The escorts couldn’t keep up and soon detached, and the new troopship raced across the Atlantic, using her speed on untested engines to evade submarines.
Queen Elizabeth arrived at Ambrose light vessel in the early morning of 7th March, and harbour tugs escorted her to Pier 90, where she joined Queen Mary, Mauretania and Aquitania, plus CGT’s Normandie and Île de France, and the Italian liner Rex. Once docked, the grey camouflage paint was touched up, supplies taken aboard and other preparations made for her coming war service.
White Star’s Oceanic, under Captain Digby Murray, sailed from Liverpool on 2nd March 1871, heading for Queenstown and then New York. She had 64 passengers aboard. Soon after she left, the crankshaft bearings in the engine started to overheat, and Oceanic was forced to put into Holyhead. After temporary repairs, she returned to Liverpool for a full repair.
She was fitted with a 4-cylinder double expansion compound engine with 12 boilers, and was designed to have a service speed of 14 knots. A notable feature of her design was that passenger accommodation was in the more stable amidships area. Prior to this most vessels’ accommodation was at the stern, where passengers experienced more turbulence, vibration and noise.
On 16th March Oceanic was finally able to resume her crossing, and arrived at Pavonia Ferry’s Long Dock in Jersey City on 29th March. Among the passengers on board were T.H. Ismay and Gustav Wolff.
In a ceremony at the White House on 1st March 1913, US President William H. Taft presented a Congressional Gold Medal to Captain Arthur H. Rostron, in recognition of his rescue of Titanic’s survivors. The award had been approved by Congress on 6th July 1912, to Captain Rostron, the officers and crew of the steamship Carpathia, “for promptly going to the relief of the steamship Titanic and heroically saving the lives of seven hundred and four people who had been shipwrecked in the North Atlantic”.
The Congressional Gold Medal, made of around 15 ounces of solid gold, is awarded to individuals by a special Act of Congress, and is different to the Congressional Medal of Honour. Each one is individually designed and struck, at the Philadelphia Mint. The design represents an important event in the person’s life. The obverse of Captain Rostron’s medal carried a likeness of his profile, and the reverse showed a swimmer being hauled into a lifeboat from the sea.