Launching 534.

Cigarette card image of the Cunard ship RMS Mauretania.In 1905 the Cunard Steam-Ship Company embarked on a three-ship weekly mail service by ordering Lusitania and Mauretania; a quarter century afterwards work began on the first instalment of a two-ship service.

A 4½-day crossing [of the Atlantic] had to be the target, but such an increase in speed entailed a ship nearly 60 per cent larger than [Bremen] the German record-breaker. The cost of such a vessel would be enormous, but it would be possible to ‘turn her round’ in a week so that she and a sister could do the work previously performed by three. The Cunard Company therefore decided to build one 4½-day ship to replace Mauretania, follow her up with a second, and then retire Berengaria and Aquitania. The keel of the first was laid on December 27th, 1930. No name was allocated and she was referred to by her works number, ‘534’.

Building of ‘534’ began at an unfortunate moment, for the early 1930’s brought one of the worst depressions shipping has ever known. The Cunard Company was compelled to conserve its financial resources and suspended construction on December 10th, 1931. After an interval the British Government offered to lend £3 million on very favourable terms to complete ‘534’ and a maximum of £5 million to build a consort, on condition that the Cunard should amalgamate with the White Star Line. There was no practical alternative to acceptance.

Queen Mary launchWork was resumed in April 1934 and the ship was launched on September 26th of that year. Many names, including Victoria, had been suggested, but the hull slid into the water as the Queen Mary.
‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, C.R. Vernon Gibbs. Staples Press, 1952. [Abridged].

“I am happy to name this ship ‘Queen Mary‘.” Having bestowed her own name on the great vessel, formerly known as “534,” Her Majesty the Queen launched the world’s largest liner on the Clyde on September 26th, 1934. A quarter of a million people in Messrs. John Brown & Co.’s shipyard watched the huge shape gather momentum, cleanly take the water, and send a white wave foaming over the opposite shore. The King (who is seen with the Queen acknowledging the cheers as Their Majesties approached the launching platform) described the liner – the first built for the combined Cunard-White Star Fleet – as “the stateliest ship now in being.”
Caption on a cigarette card (above) issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1935.

Queen Mary 30s-3

A company postcard from the 1930s.

Queen Mary 50s-2

A Cunard postcard after her service as a troop ship in WWII. White Star was dropped from the company name in 1947.

 

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The King’s English

This snippet from ‘The Days Before Yesterday’ by Lord Frederic Hamilton supports the fact that “received English“, the accent of the English upper classes we know today, is a comparitively recent development from the mid-19th century.

lord-frederic-hamiltonIn the “seventies” [1870s] some of the curious tricks of pronunciation of the eighteenth century still survived. My aunts, who had been born with, or before the nineteenth century, invariably pronounced “yellow” as “yaller.” “Lilac” and “cucumber” became “laylock” and “cowcumber,” and a gold bracelet was referred to as a “goold brasslet.” They always spoke of “Proosia” and “Roosia,” drank tea out of a “chaney” cup, and the eldest of them was still “much obleeged” for any little service rendered to her, played at “cyards,” and took a little stroll in the “gyarden.” My grandfather, who was born in 1766, insisted to the end of his life on terming the capital of these islands “Lunnon,” in eighteenth-century fashion.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton. Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1920.

I’m no linguist but this ‘sounds’ like the accent of the West Country, the counties of Somerset and Devon that had an influence on English pronunciation in Elizabethan times. Modern research suggests this was the original sound of Shakespeare’s plays.

Cross Creek and the Incline. Part 2.

Incline train

Passenger train with three Fell engines on the Remutaka Incline. Te Papa collection.

When the rail line to Wellington via Cross Creek and the Remutaka Incline closed in 1955, all buildings were removed from the settlement and the land was placed in the care of New Zealand’s Forest Service, now the Department of Conservation. Cottages at Cross Creek and Summit stations were auctioned off and transported to new locations. A signal box became a shop in Featherston (best icecreams in town), until a recent fire ended that chapter. The track quickly returned to nature. Siberia embankment became saturated through lack of maintenance to its drainage system and, in the course of one stormy night in 1967, slipped into the valley below.

Heritage and history weren’t high priorities in the forward-looking 1960s and most people were probably happy to see the end of a transport system that was slow, antiquated and dirty – imagine the smoke from multiple steam engines in narrow tunnels! But attitudes change with time.

Fell engine H199, the last of its kind, was rescued from the Featherston children’s playground in 1981. Over the next eight years it was restored to its former glory by a dedicated team of volunteers and housed in a purpose-built museum that has won awards and attracted visitors from all over the world. Department of Conservation staff cleared the old track of gorse and scrub and opened it to the public on 1st November 1987.

R_Siberia 1-2

Where the Siberia embankment once stood. Opening day 1987.

R_Siberia 2-2

The blocked drainage tower is on the right. This is the roughest part of an otherwise easy track.

R_The Summit-2

Approaching Summit station after negotiating the long, dark Summit tunnel.

The track was originally intended for walkers but, with the invention of mountain bikes, has since become part of the much longer Remutaka Cycle Trail.

R_tunnel

Bring a torch.

R_long straight

Information panels have been installed at various points of interest. This was the longest straight on the contour-hugging route, all 274 metres of it!

Cross Creek now (March 2018).

R_shelter

This modern shelter is the only standing structure in what was a bustling, noisy railway settlement for 77 years.

R_inspection pit

 Inspection pits from the engine shed remain. Cast iron brake blocks on engines and brake vans were changed here after every round trip.

Natural vegetation has returned to the hills after years of fires started by sparks from the steam engines (see top photo).

R_ferns

It seems incredible that, back in 1870, a surveyor hacked his way through this landscape and decided it would be a good place to build a railway.

Cross Creek and the Incline.

Cross Creek, about forty miles north-east of Wellington, is on the railway line at the foot of the Rimutaka incline. The settlement consists of a railway station and enginesheds, and a number of railway employees’ cottages, with a schoolhouse and master’s residence. It is seven miles south of Featherston, where the settlers get their stores, etc.

mp.natlib.govt.nz

Cross Creek station yard, [1910s] National Library of New Zealand. Reference Number: APG-0147-1/2-G.
View of Cross Creek station yard, with the end of the Rimutaka Incline visible at the extreme right. Railway houses are seen on the left of the railway track; a locomotive, and items of rolling stock. Taken in the 1910s by A P Godber.

The place is so situated amongst the hills that in winter it gets only about an hour’s sunshine in the day. The hills around, once heavily wooded, now present a partially cleared appearance. Cross Creek runs through the settlement into Lake Wairarapa.

mp2.natlib.govt.nz

Cross Creek railway yards – Photograph taken by Albert Winzenberg, Between 1897-1899. National Library of New Zealand. Reference Number: PAColl-4307-001

The Rimutaka incline, which is the steepest piece of railway line in New Zealand, extends from Cross Creek railway station to the Summit, a distance of nearly three miles. The grade is one in fifteen, and the line winds round the hills to the Summit, sometimes with rather dangerous curves, till it rises from 273 feet above sea level at Cross Creek to 1144 feet at the Summit. The railway here is constructed on what is known as the Fell system, with an additional central rail.

Incline train 2

A mixed train with four engines on the Incline. Te Papa collection.

When a train reaches Cross Creek from the north, the ordinary engine is detached, and a Fell engine for every eight loaded waggons and van, or every four carriages and two vans, is attached. These engines can each draw a load of sixty-five tons up the incline. An incline van with special brakes is also hitched on. The train then proceeds up the incline at the rate of five miles an hour….. The centre rail is gripped on each side by wheels revolving horizontally underneath the engine. There are two pairs of these wheels on each engine, pressing in towards each other.

Inc_engine 2

This Fell engine was built by the Avonside Engine Co. Ltd. at Bristol, England in 1875. Two horizontal wheels can be seen between the rail and the piston rods. These gripped the centre rail at a pressure of 3 tons per square inch. The Fell was, in effect, two engines in one frame and made a distinctive sound – a double chuff.

When descending, the centre rail is gripped between cast iron blocks fitted under the engine [and brake vans] so as to press towards each other. The friction is so great that, after taking a heavy train down, these blocks are so worn that they have to be replaced. A workshop with a stock of these blocks is therefore part of the plant at Cross Creek, and fitters are kept to replace the blocks as required.

The ascent is made in forty minutes with a passenger train, and the descent in twenty minutes. In two places where the train crosses deep gullies, the line is protected by high wooden fences to break the force of the gusts of wind that at one time, before this means of protection was devised, blew part of a train over the embankment. [September 1880. Three children killed, another died of injuries later].

Inc_siberia

Windbreak fences at Siberia embankment. Photo: Burton Brothers. Te Papa collection.

The line is now, however, well secured against such possibilities. The only inconvenience suffered by passengers is the rather awkward dip of the carriages, and the delay in getting over this three miles of country. The Fell system was first tried on the Mount Cenis line in Europe, but is not used elsewhere in the world, as far as is known, except on the Rimutaka incline.

Text: Extracts from the New Zealand Cyclopedia 1897.
Note: the spelling of ‘Rimutaka’, which has no meaning in the Maori language, was officially changed last year to ‘Remutaka’, which means ‘sitting down to rest’.

The Incline route closed in 1955 after modern engineering technology drove an 8.8km tunnel through the mountains. Fell engine H199, which supported track gangs laying the line in 1878, was there again to help them rip it up 77 years later. Then it was donated to the people of Featherston where it sat in a children’s playground for the next 20 years, slowly rusting away. The other five engines were scrapped.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.

To be continued.

The Italian fleet surrenders.

After the downfall and arrest of Benito Mussolini in July 1943, the Italian government surrendered to the Western Allies on September 3rd, although the armistice was kept secret until the 8th. The Italian Navy was instructed to surrender it’s fleet the following day. These extracts come from reports in ‘The Sphere’ on September 25th and October 2nd.

By the early morning of September 11, the best part of the warships of the Italian Navy had entered Valetta Harbour [Malta] to surrender, in response to Admiral Cunningham’s appeal to seek shelter in British waters. One force came from Spezia: another from Taranto. In all, by the 11th, there were four battleships, seven cruisers, and ten destroyers safe in harbour: other vessels followed later.

Italian fleet

The British Navy meets the Italian fleet. Artist’s impression by Montague Dawson.

It was after dawn that the British Navy came up with the Italian battlefleet from Taranto. It was steaming in line ahead with the battleship Andrea Doria in front and the battleship Giulio [Cesare] behind it: other ships were following. All were flying the Italian flag and a black flag to denote they were surrendering in accordance with Admiral Cunningham‘s instructions. They looked spick and span and were a really fine sight, with the crews of each ship standing to attention along the decks. [Oct 2]

[Later that day], a motor-launch pulled up alongside the landing-stage in Malta Harbour and, as a guard of honour formed by British sailors sprang smartly to attention, the Italian Admiral de Zara [sic] (Acting Commander-in-Chief) and other senior officers of the Italian Navy stepped ashore, to be greeted by Commodore Royar Dick, Chief of Staff to Admiral Cunningham, and Captain Rodderick Edwards, Chief of Staff, Malta.

Italian surrenderAfter shaking hands with the Commodore, the Italian Admiral was then invited to inspect the guard of honour: [here] he is seen passing through the two lines of British bluejackets with his hand raised in salute. Admiral de Zara then entered a motor-car with Commodore Dick and was driven to Admiral Cunningham’s office at Malta Naval Headquarters. The Italian Navy had surrendered exactly in accordance with the terms of the Armistice, and it was therefore decided that the Italian Admiral should be received ashore with the same ceremonial as if he were a foriegn Admiral paying an official visit in peacetime. [25 Sept]

In reality, of course, the logistics and loyalties involved in such a momentous event meant it didn’t unfold as neatly as this. An article published in the Times of Malta in 2014 gives a fascinating and more detailed account, and you can watch a contemporary British Pathé newsreel (3 m. 30 sec.) on Youtube.

Flying to Milford

Friday Flashback

M_Queenstown airport-2

This is New Zealand’s Queenstown airport in August 1979, ten years before the first jet aircraft arrived. Much of the business then relied on tourist flights in small ‘planes like these. I had something bigger for my flight to Milford Sound

M_Britten-Norman Islander-3

but not by much. I was lucky enough to get a seat beside the pilot after the Britten-Norman Islander had been refueled at a mobile Mobil station.

Milford flight 1-4

Queenstown is a mountain resort so the views of the Southern Alps are spectacular if you fly there. I don’t know about you but when I’m faced with a magnificent scene like this, with the natural environment stretching away to the horizon in all its awe-inspiring grandeur, I can’t ignore the little voice inside that says …..
“If anything goes wrong with this aircraft, there’s nowhere to land”.

Milford flight 6-2

A view to the left from the cockpit.

MacKinnon Pass

Approaching MacKinnon Pass on the Milford Track. It’s the little snow covered ridge in the foreground. Once over the pass, turn left.

M_Sutherland Falls-3

Fly directly at Sutherland Falls – the highest in the country with a 580 metre (1908 feet) vertical drop – until the cliff face ahead completely fills your windshield then pull up for a glimpse of Lake Quill, flick the ‘plane on a wingtip to execute a 180 degree turn, and continue to Milford Sound.

M_Mitre

Images of Mitre Peak have become something of a tourist cliché but you can’t fail to be impressed when you stand in its presence. It dominates the landscape and demands your attention.

Unfortunately my visit was cut short. I barely had time to fire off a couple of cliché’s and get bitten by the infamous sandflies when the pilot called us back to the aircraft. A nasty weather front was heading our way from the Tasman Sea and it would be best if we got out ahead of it. You should expect this in Fiordland where conditions can change rapidly, especially in winter.

We piled back into the Islander and he flew us to the seaward end of the Sound. It was part of the flight plan we’d already paid for, and maybe he wanted to prove there really was a nasty front out there. And there really was. Dark cloud, rain and, no doubt, turbulence rolling towards us. Time for another one of those 180 degree wingtip turns.

A London Excursion

This undated vintage postcard is part two of an unknown number of cards written as a letter and posted in an envelope.

Regent Street

“2/  Yesterday Will Humphries, another and I went into London – Had a fine ride on the Motor Busses & Electric trams which are very cheap to ride on – we went all the way from Barking to Victoria Station for 6d & from here to Barking for 5d. Last week we had a day at Southend by the sea – it is a great place for picnicers. Crowds go there from London. We have been getting a lot of rain since July – hardly any summer.

We get fairly easy times here, about 20 minutes light exercise each morning & half hours on “Arts & Crafts” at Y.M.C.A. – either basket making, carving, drawing or writing (illuminated etc). I chose the latter, and others if we like we can please ourselves. There are fine Recreation Rooms – Y.M.C.A. & War Contingent Assn. – Miss Mira McNab is helping in the latter!
Please give my kind regards to Mrs & Mr Wensley & family”.

The writer and recipient are a mystery but this fragment may tell us more than just the price of London bus fares. The second paragraph reveals these three men were undergoing rehabilitation at an army hospital in England during the First World War. Assuming the Association is for the New Zealand Contingent (not Australian or Canadian), then we might have an identity for Will Humphries.

The most likely candidate, from a short list of three, is George William Humphries who was a 20 year old farm worker when he enlisted in 1915. He was posted to Egypt first and then to France where he was wounded in the back two months after arrival. Patched up and stabilised in Boulogne, he was transferred to a hospital in Sheffield, England, on 27th June 1916 where he stayed until September. He arrived at Hornchurch convalescent hospital in Essex on 20th.

This fits in with the fact that their route to London approached from the east – “from Barking to Victoria Station” and “from here to Barking” (see map for Hornchurch). Humphries shipped out to New Zealand on 13th November, giving us an approximate date of October 1916 for the postcard.

George William Humphries was discharged from the army on 17th March 1917, unfit for service due to wounds received. He died in Napier in February 1961.

If anyone knows more about Miss Mira McNab, and why she deserved an exclamation point, please leave a comment.