Mauretania memories

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archive photo of crowds watching the launch of a huge ship

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

Whenever I hear the name Mauretania the very sound evokes the gentle noises of the sea, the swishing of the breeze and the rolling of the waves.

The second Mauretania was a great favourite in Liverpool, built locally just before the Second World War. I remember the sadness people felt when she was scrapped in the 1960s.

As the Second World War loomed, the 35,750-ton luxury liner sailed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York on 17 June 1939. She was constructed at Birkenhead’s famous Cammell Laird shipyard and at the time was the largest merchant ship ever built in England.

The beautiful vessel was the second Cunard liner to bear the name Mauretania. During the Second World War she served as a troopship. Returning to passenger duties in 1947, Mauretania II was employed mainly on the transatlantic service until 1965.

On display at Merseyside Maritime Museum is a brochure commemorating the 1938 launching ceremony – impressive overhead photographs show the keel taking shape. One is taken from a crane at the bow showing three of the lower decks in the course of construction. An intricate mass of timbers served as platforms for the shipyard workers. The other view looks towards the stern on the edge of the River Mersey.

A medal commemorating the launch was made from metal recovered from the first Mauretania launched in 1906 and scrapped in 1935. This ship was the sister of the Lusitania sunk by a German U-boat submarine in 1915 with great loss of life.

A 1939 advertisement from a popular magazine of the time called Syren and Shipping details Cammell Laird’s products including the Mauretania II and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and battleship Prince of Wales among war vessels of every type for British and foreign navies.

Photographs show the Mauretania being launched and coming down the slipway watched by huge crowds. In August 1939 Mauretania was switched to the London – New York service and made two Atlantic crossings after war broke out. She was converted into a troopship at Sydney in 1940. During the war she travelled 540,000 miles carrying more than 350,000 troops.

With the return of peacetime she sailed mostly on the Southampton – New York route. The arrival of regular transatlantic air travel saw her being used extensively in cruising including a world cruise in 1958.

Mauretania’s last sailings were on the New York – Mediterranean service from 1963. She was scrapped at Inverkeithing on the Firth of Forth, Scotland.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).