Maritime (1934-67)

Mick Imlah

With a few soft words Her Majesty
Christened the liner built as ‘504’:
‘I name this ship – Myself. God bless . . .’

The towering masterpiece of the Depression,
She rose from the not-so-bonny Bank of Clyde
(Bombed to a pit for its pains in ’41).

Meanwhile, John Masefield wrote a handsome poem
(‘Shredding a trackway like a mile of snow . . .’)
And Harry Lauder roamed the yard with pride.

She ploughed across the Atlantic in four days,
Loud with the ‘rich and famous’, only the seasick
Inlaid pianos suffering injury;

Till Cunard leased her to the cause of war.
We stripped the cabins bare, then stacked them up
With bunks and trunks and barrowloads of boys.

Ten thousand volunteers from New South Wales
And several fifteen-thousands from New York:
Some payload, and she bore it royally.

Winston’s flamboyant tribute to ‘the Queens’
(She and her sister Elizabeth): ‘Their service
Hastened our haul to victory by a year!’

But dear, oh dear, when Cunard got her back,
Her Korkoid floorings marred by a million boots,
It also proved that certain servicemen

Had carved their callow names on the panellings:
‘♥Harvey Woz Ere and hates the lot of you’;
‘GOD BLESS THIS SHIP AND WALTER DONOGHUE’

*

Some Queens go on forever: Victoria
And Virgin Bess; others, however buoyant
And bright they seem, succumb before their span.

Queen Mary heard the knell in ’49.
Her refit took its bearings from the past,
And while she soldiered on, communal loos

Were deemed ‘barbaric’ by the new civilian.
The Comet flew; the Ocean turned its back
On an ‘ageing Queen’ and ‘limping Leviathan’.

In ’66, the Mary suddenly shook
With strange vibrations; down in the dry dock
They diagnosed a crack in her inner screw –

Inoperable. And the plain verdict came:
‘It’s Florida or scrap for you, Ma’am . . .’
They compromised on California.