Audio transcripts

Saturday: Bastien Fylling

Young male Norwegian emigrant on the Mauretania 1911.

Introduction: Here Bastien Fylling, an emigrant from Norway to America tells of arriving in England to join the Mauretania at Liverpool's Landing Stage in 1911. 

Bastien Fylling: We had bought tickets from the Cunard Line agent in Bergen, and when we got ashore in Newcastle, the Line had a horse drawn bus to take us to the Rail Road Station as we had to cross England from Newcastle to Liverpool by rail. Got in to Liverpool at 4 a.m. The line provided transportation to a Hotel run by the Line only a few blocks from the Harbour.

We were taken to a sort of ward in the Hotel with several beds and people in all of them except one. My friends Bert Stephenson and John Eide took that one; the only other possible place was a bed with only one occupant, and I had to get in there. Don't know who my bedfellow was. To my certain knowledge, I've never seen him before or since. At seven a.m. the next morning, the clerk came in and told us to get down for breakfast.

The forenoon was spent showing our papers and getting some more papers and having the doctor's examination. We had dinner and nothing more to do until it was time to board the Ship between 3 and 4 pm. I walked down to the harbour, as I was anxious to see the ship we were to sail on. On the way down I also paid attention to the traffic on the streets. Somewhat different from Bergen but not too much. For transporting goods it was all done with horses at that time. They were also using two wheeled carts, same as at home, but bigger, and the horses were bigger than the Norwegian type. Instead of driving the horse, the driver would walk by the horse's head leading the animal.

When I got down to the harbour, I saw two large steamers at anchor out in the harbour. They were the Mauretania and its sister ship the Lusitania. I went back to the hotel, and a little later on, all the passengers walked down to the dock to board the ship. We were ferried out to the ship on a smaller steamer, a wheel boat, driven by two large wheels, one on either side of the boat. There were some 900 hundred of us, so when we got alongside the Mauretania, it took some time to get organised. We were lined up climbing the ladder from the smaller ship to the deck of the big one.

As the first four persons reached the deck a steward would lead them to their stateroom. The rooms were small about 6 by 8 feet, two bunks, one above the other on either side, with a narrow aisle between, hardly wide enough for two persons to squeeze by one another. If all four occupants were in the room, at least one would have to be lying in bed in one of the upper bunks. There was a washstand by the wall across from the door and one folding chair. Our room was two storeys down from the main deck; the bathroom on the deck above us.

After we had been disposed of, the ship was run along the dockside, where 1st and 2nd class passengers boarded the ship. Some freight and mail was also loaded. I have never been able to figure out why the 3rd class passengers had to be hauled into the harbour to board the ship. The only reason that occurred to me was that it would save the 1st and 2nd class passengers from getting in too close contact with "The Thundering Herd".

Sunday: Lilian Jervis-Evans

British woman, might be journalist as writing in Cunard Magazine, 1925

Introduction: Lilian Jervis-Evans published her impressions of Liverpool on sailing day for the Cunard Magazine in 1925.

Lilian Jervis-Evans: As we reached the Landing Stage, a fresh breeze welcomed us, blowing away the cobwebs that collect in the narrow streets, our 'canyons of stone'. Before us loomed the giant Cunarder. Immediately the delicate strings of Romance are set in motion. What realms of Romance and Adventure lie in this floating palace! If her timbers could only speak!

Eager faces peer through and beyond the iron railings.

'There's Bert.' says a voice excitedly.

'Wave your handy to Dad, Bobby. And looking up I catch a glimpse of a man's red handkerchief waving in the breeze from the forepeak of the vessel - Daddy, who is one of the ship's crew, waves farewell to his little son who says that he will be a sailor on a Cunarder one day.

I talk to an elderly American lady who tells me that she is 92 years old. Together we make our way to the Prince's Stage. 'This is all my luggage', she informed me. 'I don't care about carrying a cottage with me.' 'I'll tell you something.', she added. 'Women are the worst offenders, both in the matter of the amount of baggage and in the magnitude of the trunks themselves - huge, hefty, miniature garages that no-one could handle without considerable difficulty.'

The ship's gangways are scenes of bustle and excitement. Under the cool exteriors who shall detect the heartaches, the tremendous thrills? Among the travellers there are those on pleasure bent and those who seek happiness and fortune in the Land of Promise. There are those with just Hope and a few personal possessions.

On the wind comes the lapping of the water. Ferry boats are plying busily and the fussy little tugs lie still. With load shrieking of sirens the Cunarder bids an adieu. Gracefully, proudly she breaks away from her moorings and proceeds majestically down river accompanied by her tender, the famous Skirmisher.

Those left behind continue to wave until the loved ones have passed out of sight. Brave hearts force back the tears, for some may never return. Truly it is a river of tears as well as of laughter.'

Monday: Laurie Lee

The author, a youngish male with a West Country accent, c1960.

Introduction: Around 1960 Cunard asked author Laurie Lee to write an article about travelling as a first class passenger on the Queen Mary. Here is how he described an evening on board.

Laurie Lee: Evening! Cocktail hour! The Captain has presented his compli­ments and requests the pleasure of your company in his quarters. High up, near the bridge, in a room like a headmaster's, you meet other of your fellow passengers. There are actors, writers, steel magnates and wives, professors, Italian princesses. The Captain, lean as a Scottish loch, orders his guests like a flagged flotilla, deploying their move­ments with an expert touch and bringing them trimly alongside each other.

The Observation Bar is also filling up - another meeting-place before dinner. Its great bow window holds a panorama of the evening - the ship's prow and the spread-out sea. In one's hand the martini trembles faintly. One feels the throb of the liner's thrust. Black ties and tuxedos, bare arms and pearls, a steady rise of conversation and laughter. Now is the moment of warmth and balance when every kind of communication seems easy - alone at sea on a common voyage, sharing the luxury of place and purpose. A tray of oranges stuck with beetroot roses offers hot canapés of bacon and liver.

After dinner, as the night settles down, gala dancing and cabaret, when to the sultry throbbing of the saxophone the honeymoon of the ocean unfolds.

Tuesday: Amy de Joia

Traveller on an Atlantic liner aged 4 in 1968

Amy de Joia: My name is Amy. When I was a little girl, I came to live in Britain with my Mum and Dad. We sailed from New York in a huge, huge liner.

I was only four years old so I can only remember some things about my journey. Like, I can't remember anything about what I had to eat except that there was lots of it and I liked it. Here's what I can remember.

All the planning and packing and having to buy trunks - it was so exciting. We went to this shop where there were trunks from the floor right up to the ceiling. My parents bought huge, huge trunks and a little trunk for me. I don’t remember what I put in the trunk, maybe all my toys. But it was my trunk.

All I remember about going on the ship was its size - it was enormous. And we had to walk for ages to get there. I had a doll. I was given it the day before or maybe the same day that we went on the ship. And she was a big doll and she had a plastic head and a soft body and I carried her under my arm. If you go into a toyshop today there's that smell of new doll's plastic and whenever I smell it I am four years old again with my doll under my arm.

I knew we were going to England and I wanted so much to use the right English words not the American ones I knew. I got very friendly with lots of other kids and some of them were English. They helped me learn the new words. I remember rushing up to my Mum on deck and showing her a basket of fruit and telling her that it wasn't made of Playdough, it was made of Plasticine - that's what English kids called Playdough. She asked if the basket had apples in it 'No. They're not apples and they're not tomatoes (American pronunciation). They’re tomatoes. (draw out English pronunciation). There were so many things to learn - we'd never even had custard before.

Every night seemed like a party. I always got to wear a shiny pointed hat. And there were streamers. I went in to dinner with my Mum and Dad and then I went to bed and my parents went somewhere else on the ship. I was on my own in the cabin but I never felt scared.

It was very, very choppy one night and a steward strapped me in my bunk so that I wouldn't fall out - like a safety belt. I was given a green boiled sweet and I was so excited about that because eating a green boiled sweet after you’d brushed your teeth was like Yeh!. I was a real rebel. My Mum told me later that the choppy sea had made me so ill that I had been sick on the dining room floor!

The only other thing I can remember is that we got to England, it was freezing and grey and raining and all our winter clothes were packed in these trunks. I was so miserable and cold and my Mum tried to cheer me up. 'In a couple of days you'll have your woolly tights and you'll have your coat everything will be all right.' She was right.

Wednesday: Frances Milroy

Lady Assistant Purser on the Queens

Frances Milroy: My name is Frances Milroy. I was a lady assistant purser on the Queens.

When I was in my twenties I started to get itchy feet. This was in the mid 1950s when most girls worked in an office until they got married and then stayed at home. I wanted to see a bit more of the world. So I put my name on the waiting list to be a lady assistant purser. For ages I heard nothing so I rang up Cunard. Two days later I was on my way to the Queen Mary.

My mother was horrified. She didn't want me to leave home - lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth. But then being on the Queen Mary did impress the neighbours and I was an officer too. So that was fine. After two or three trips I was transferred to the ships sailing out of Liverpool. Everyone thought I had been sent home in disgrace. In fact it was a more responsible job because there were only two of us on the smaller liners compared with eight on the Queens.

The very first trip I did from Liverpool was on the Ivernia and I was seasick even before we passed the Mersey Bar and all the way to Montreal. I got used to it in time except on very rough trips. You just had to work through it. It helped if you had something to take your mind off your stomach like typing out list after list after list of passengers' details.

I had a typewriter with a big long carriage line to type immigration forms. They were over a foot long with forty seven passenger names a sheet. It just went on and on. In the late 1950s we had lots of Hungarians fleeing after the Revolution, loads of them going to Canada. They were awful names to type - a nightmare - you couldn't ever say a name, you had to do it letter by letter.

Another part of our job was looking after passenger valuables in the safe deposits. On the Queen Mary you had to go through a big iron gate - it was like going into a prison. As the Junior you didn’t finish at six o'clock - you had to stay until half past seven because passengers wanted to get their jewellery out for dinner. That was a real chore!

I was also involved in the berthing - checking off passengers in cabins and moving them when possible if they didn't like their cabin. Also on the Queens we had a travel bureau - we used to make hotel bookings in New York, rail travel all over the States and the boat trains for Paris or London on the way back. That was fascinating.

We dined in the passenger restaurant. We were allowed to choose from the first class menu except for lobster or caviar - these weren't for us! We had smoked salmon once a voyage. This was the good thing about this job. I didn't need to think about shopping or cooking. Our rooms were cleaned by our cabin steward - we even got morning tea in bed.

At first we had to wear uniform all the time. It was like the Wren's with a navy blue velour hat with a little crease around it - they were not attractive. We used to wear a collar and tie with detached collars which I sent to one of the Chinese laundries in Liverpool. I was always red raw round my neck.

It was a whole new era when QE2 came out: I ended up as the first woman chief purser. For QE2 we went into a new uniform - Chanel-type suits with a boxy jacket and a nice skirt, and no collar and tie. We were encouraged to go to the captain's receptions and dine with the passengers whereas on the former Queens the only thing we were allowed to do was to go to the cinema. If it was a popular film, the master-at-arms would come and shine a torch in your face and you were out.

On QE2 we were required to have civilian evening dresses. This sounded fantastic at first but experience proved that you needed more than one, plus of course the bag, the shoes and all the accessories. In a way we didn’t realise how lucky we were when in uniform.

The most wonderful thing about being a seafarer are the friendships I made. They have lasted a lifetime.

Thursday: Shore leave

Crew reactions to New York drawn from crew interviews with Frances Milroy, Jenny Kemp and Ron Henderson

Introduction: Here three of the crew whom you have already met describe their reactions to New York.

Jenny Kemp: We went to the top of the Empire State Building. And the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were there side by side. It was the voyage when Eisenhower was on board so when they got to mid-Atlantic they were as close together as they'd ever been because he wanted to see them. The story was that the ship tipped up because all the passengers rushed to one side. And it was so seldom that that happened - the two big ships. I'll never forget it. It was wonderful.

I went into Tiffany's the jewellers on Fifth Avenue. I was walking round - all the men were in tail suits a bit like Fortnum and Mason's in London. And they said 'Can I help you ma'am' and I said 'I would like a little souvenir to take back to England but I can't afford anything here. And he gave me a little carrier bag - a lovely little blue satin bag.

Frances Milroy: Because I joined the Queen Mary at short notice I just had a blue uniform and this was June and half way across the crew went into whites. I didn't have any whites so myself and another new girl were instructed to get them in New York. As soon as we got to New York, it was arranged that we should go up to the uniform shop and get our whites. We were thrust into a taxi to Alexander's, I think the name of the shop was, and before we came back we had a sandwich on Broadway. We went into one of those deli bars and the only thing we recognised was cream cheese and so we asked for a cream cheese sandwich. I have never seen anything like it - it was enough to turn your stomach - all oozing out... absolutely revolting!

I also remember the first time that I boarded a bus in New York. I didn't know that you put the fare in a box beside the driver. He called me 'a bloody foreigner'. I immediately retorted: 'No I'm not. I'm British.'

Ron Henderson: I bought coloured shirts, nylon socks, ties and I used to bring things home for my mother - food - Britain was still rationed - and for my girlfriend - I was courting - I'd bring her nylons, underwear and that sort of thing because nylon was the 'in' thing in Britain. I'd sightsee although I never saw as much as I'd intended to because I'd always say 'I'll do that next trip'. I'd have a drink ashore, have a wander around, do some shopping - nothing fantastically exciting.

Soon New York was just another port. We didn't see much more than just New York Harbor. If you talk to seamen who've been all over the world, most of them haven’t seen much more than the waterfront. You don't have transport and you're looking for a meal and a drink - it's like a weekend off as you've been working all the time.

And then you might not be there long. The fastest I've ever been involved in - and it was absolutely shattering - was on the Queen Mary when from the hour of docking to the hour of sailing was 17 hours. The Queen Mary was a very, very demanding vessel and you got a trip off in six and you were ready for it - you were worn out.