Bermudians who sailed on the Furness Bermuda Line in the 1950s and early ’60s are being invited to a reunion in the UK in to renew old acquaintances and to share memories and mementos from the golden days of Furness’s sister ships, “Queen of Bermuda” and “Ocean Monarch”.
Following a successful reunion in 2009, members of the international Furness Bermuda Line association are staging another event at The Merchant Seaman’s War Memorial Society in Surrey on May 14.
Guest speakers include Bermudian maritime painter Captain Stephen Card, renowned for his paintings of “Queen of Bermuda” (one of which is shown above) and other ocean liners, and one-time “Queen of Bermuda” crew member Allen Soares, whose slides of FBL ships and crew held everyone’s attention at the May, 2009 gathering of former shipmates.
“Queen of Bermuda” and “Ocean Monarch” departed on Saturday afternoons from Pier 95 on New York’s Hudson River to make the 700-mile voyage to Bermuda. Captain Card has recalled “the many Monday mornings when I would arrive by ferry in Hamilton and, instead of rushing to school, wait to watch the Queen slowly come alongside at No 1 dock. On Wednesday afternoons, as sailing time approached, her triple-chime steam whistles could be heard all over the island.”
He added, “The ‘Queen of Bermuda’ was particularly famous for her profile. Her grey hull and white superstructure were topped with three graceful red and black funnels and she was the only liner in history to have sailed with three, two and, from 1962, one funnel.”
In association with author Piers Plowden and the Bermuda Maritime Museum, Captain Card published a well-received coffee table book coffee table book in 2002 chronicling the “Queen of Bermuda’s” history and illustrated with original paintings and rare photographs.
A bellboy and waiter aboard the “Queen of Bermuda” from 1961 to 1965 when the great liner was finally taken out of service, Bermudian Mr. Soares now owns a painting company on the island and maintains a keen interest in ships.
“I’m a member of several shipping societies and have put together an FBL slide presentation, which has been shown in Bermuda, America and”, he adds, “on the ‘QE2′!”.
“Queen of Bermuda” made her maiden voyage to Hamilton in 1933. Accompanied by “Monarch of Bermuda” until the outbreak of war in 1939, they became known as the “Millionaires’ Ships” as they attracted the wealthiest passengers -– and the famous, including Clark Gable, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Lawrence and child film star Shirley Temple.
After a distinguished war service, “Queen of Bermuda” returned to the Furness Bermuda Line, this time running with the newly-built but smaller “Ocean Monarch”. Throughout the 1950s, they were dubbed the ‘Honeymoon Ships’, their Saturday departures from New York fitting in well with the week-long honeymoons of many couples. The celebrity list continued, this time including former US president Harry Truman, Cary Grant, Noel Coward and Princess Soraya, former wife of the Shah of Iran.
It also included a Cockney lad called Tommy Hicks, who joined the “Queen” as a bellboy, later returned to London to become a rock ‘n’ roll singer and changed his name to Tommy Steele. While a member of the “Queen’s” crew he used to jam at Bermuda nightspots with local musician Hubert Smith, who remained a life-long friend.
Most of the ships’ crews came from the UK. But dozens of Bermudians also found employment on these ships. Mr. Soares, remembers the fine dining on the ship. “Dinner was a very elegant occasion, all silver service and usually five courses with many selections.” He adds, “The passengers were very generous, some tipping a waiter as much as $100 for the week’s round trip from New York.”
Another Bermudian, Allan Davidson, joined the Queen as a cadet in 1956 and, as he moved up through the ranks to become Junior Chief Officer, returned from time to time to serve on both “Queen of Bermuda” and “Ocean Monarch.”
“As cadets,” he says, “we learned to navigate the ocean by the stars. We met all sorts of interesting people and forged friendships, which have proved to be enduring.”
For further information and to book to attend the event, visit the Furness Bermuda Line association’s website.