Sunday, 24 September 2017

The QE2 Story

A giant of the Clyde, the QE2 liner, turned 50 this week. There has been a fair amount of publicity on the radio and newspapers, and to commemorate the event, a faithful bunch of enthusiasts also gathered in Clydebank to commemorate the occasion !

I have family connections to the QE2 as my father worked as an engineer at John Brown Engineering, who famously constructed the QE2.  Almost 10 years ago my brother Robert Lightbody started a website after a conversation with some other enthusiasts on board the QE2.  He started a forum "The QE2 Story" - "Keeping the Legend Alive" and through this medium many have posted their memories, of the construction, of working on board and of sailing in this fantastic liner.

The main administrators of the QE2Story website decided to organise a 50th Anniversary celebration of her launch. We gathered on Friday at Clydebank Town Hall which is positioned right behind where John Browns Engineering used to be.

The event organisers had done a fabulous job and had organised the day down to the last detail.
We were piped into the hall and then received our welcome packs. And we began to swap stories of what had brought us from near and far to gather at this commemoration event.

We moved through to the main hall which had been laid out as though we were indeed on a cruise, with us all sitting at round tables. First speaker up was Ian Johnstone from Glasgow School of Art and he covered the finances of John Browns and how they came to be the shipyard which built what was originally known as Q4 ! But on launch day came to be known as QE2 !
She had been reluctant to leave and had had to have an extra push to launch her on her illustrious career. But what a career. It has not yet been bettered.

Our day was launched by a commemorative cake being cut by none other than the daughter of the famous John Rannie, the Managing Director of John Brown shipyard and a naval architect, who oversaw construction of QE2.

Next speaker up was also from Glasgow School of Art, Prof Bruce Peters, who set in context the design ideas behind the interiors of QE2. She was not going to emulate the Victorian designs of so many of her predecessors but would instead have her interiors designed to the last detail in a more modernist approach. She was the original 60s girl ! Many top London and UK interior designers were involved, with some with full responsibility for particular rooms.
And Bruce Peters pointed out how the room we were sitting in was very appropriate as it had been designed by the person who designed the interiors of the Lusitania.

Next up Ronnie Keir who spoke about the construction, having worked since the age of 15 at John Browns. He told how every aspect was done "on site", from a 15 ton steel block arriving, to the melting, casting into gears, blades, plates etc. So the turbines, gears etc were all built on site. Nowadays for such a construction, different parts would be purchased from specialists.  He recalled a moment when arriving in the ship to see some of the platers dancing a tiller girl routine on the stage of the theatre. That would have been worth seeing. It was obviously very hard work - "character building" work as he described it but with lots of camaraderie too.

From then on we heard tales of her time on the high seas. She sailed once again in our memories. We heard of the time she sailed with brave soldiers and brave QE2 volunteer crew to the South Atlantic during the Falkland conflict. She set off with soldiers perched on every available point including sitting in the lifeboats. She was waved away and set sail, avoiding icebergs en route and stopping to offload the men in South Georgia.

One of her captains Captain Bates entertained us with his stories of his time on board. His teacher hadn't expected him to make much of himself, saying he "spent his time looking out of windows". But his eventual job required him to do exactly that ! He was a very entertaining speaker and now uses his skills to help others experience being on a canal boat with the Seagull Trust.

Other sessions were chaired by another QE2 Captain and by the designer of the QM2, Stephen Payne.
We heard from someone who had worked as a head of on-board entertainment. And we also heard about what the future might hold as she sits in Dubai awaiting development.

Here are the speakers and organisers from the day:

The next day there was a boat trip organised to go down the Clyde to see what was left of the John Browns yard and the place where QE2 had been launched and then sat while being fitted out. We also were to go up the Titan Crane.
But before all that we were to witness a re-union of two Clyde greats - the MV Balmoral (most widely travelled UK passenger ship) who was sailing a weekend of Clyde excursions and the newly rescued SS Queen Mary.
We witnessed the handing over of a painting between the captains. There is much work to be done but the plan is to get Queen Mary sailing again in two years time.

Meanwhile on the Clyde, a Clydebuilt rowing festival was taking place with over 100 rowing boats having rowed all the way from Dumbarton Rock right to the centre of Glasgow. Here are two of the teams:

It was then on board the Clyde Clipper for our trip down the Clyde ! Flying a QE2 flag !

Past the Transport Museum and the Tall Ship then on past the various Clyde dock yards, with an accompanying commentary and then we arrived at the Titan Crane. The staff there are very enthusiastic and a font of information. We could see clearly why John Browns had moved downriver to Clydebank to take advantage of the fact they could launch large ships outwards, making use of the fact the River Cart joined the Clyde at that point to give a larger width for launching.

Another classic shipbuilding name from the past - Barclay Curle - and another of four remaining Titan Cranes on the Clyde - this one built by the famous Sir William Arrol's company who are famous for building the Forth Railway Bridge.

The Titan Crane in Clydebank and the red QE2 flag flying again on the Clyde:

On the way back it was three cheers to the QE2 and then we disembarked. Some headed back for a relaxing drink at the Crown Plaza while others headed back across the world, back to the normal everyday lifes without the QE2 !
Will the days come back when we see such sights again as the QE2, Concorde and the Red Arrows flying in formation ? Who knows - but we certainly did a good job of remembering them this weekend !
Happy 50th QE2 !

Have a look at some memories - this month's photo competition on The QE2 Story Forum:,7439.0.html

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