By Mike Coleman
Cunard Line’s unparalleled maritime history has come to life in the most obvious of locations: At sea, aboard its latest vessel.
When Queen Victoria was launched Dec. 11, it was the first Cunard vessel to carry an exhibit of company memorabilia, artifacts and vintage souvenirs including Queen Mary’s log book and her historic zig zag clock – that vital timekeeping device that prevented World War II German U-Boat attacks against the famed liner.
The onboard museum – dubbed Cunardia – tells the story of the company’s trio of 20th century Queens: Queen Mary (1936), Queen Elizabeth (1940) and Queen Elizabeth 2 (1969). The exhibit showcases the histories of the iconic ocean liners; trace a ‘typical day’ at sea, from the perspective of both passenger and crew member and feature the role of the Queens as troop carriers during World War II and the Falklands War in 1982.
In addition, retired Commodore Ronald Warwick, former Master of Queen Mary 2 and QE2, serves as honorary curator of the exhibit. Warwick, an avid Cunard historian, was a natural choice, not only due to his own place in the Cunard family, but also because his father, Capt. William E. Warwick, captained Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and QE2. Warwick and his father, by the way, are the only father-and-son captains in Cunard’s 168-year history.
The most significant piece of memorabilia may be the zig-zag clock from Queen Mary during her wartime service. The clock was kept on the bridge to alert navigators as to when to change direction during the operation known as zig-zagging. Regularly changing course was a tactic designed to confuse U-boats. Adolph Hitler had put a price on the ship as a target and as a trophy of war.
Other exhibits include the first log book of Queen Mary (handwritten by Sir Edgar Britten, captain during her maiden voyage); collections of never-before-published images, illustrating the celebrity hey-day of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth; detailed ship models and souvenirs; artifacts and stories related to the “Cunard Yanks,” the young crew who brought the latest New York fashions in clothing and music to post-war Britain.
While focusing on Cunard’s 20th century history, Cunardia also gives a nod to the present, with exhibit references to Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, including the cork from the bottle of prosecco that was broken over Queen Victoria’s bow by Maureen Ryan, as the ship met open water for the first time. With its typical flair for tradition and ceremony, Cunard chose Ryan, the only known person to have served on four Queens, to serve as the ship’s godmother during Queen Victoria’s float-out celebration.
Similarly, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall named the 90,000 ton ship, joining a long line of royals who have launched a Cunard liner. As well as being the second largest Cunard liner ever built, Queen Victoria’s arrival is particularly noteworthy, as it marks the first time that three Cunard Queens have been in service together in the company’s storied history.