Fraser Ballantyne's QE2 Story

Updated on August 29th 2012 by Rob Lightbody

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My first encounter with the QE2 was on a rather overcast day early in 1965 in John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank and I was standing on some steel plates when John Rannie, the yard manager pointed to the pile of metal and told Sir Basil Smallpiece, the Cunard Chairman "That will soon be the keel of your new ship".  

A hour later as, he was about to enter his car, Sir Basil asked where the bow of the ship would be just as I backed up to and fell over, a metal pole stuck into a bucket of concrete...............exactly where that man has just fallen over Mr.Rannie told Sir Basil!  

We were not to meet again until September 1967 when she slipped into the rather dirty waters of the Clyde and began her life as Queen Elizabeth 2 and ceased to be the rather unromantic 736.    

It wasn't the brightest of days but on the 20th of September 1967 it was, at least, dry and I was off to see No. 736 launched into the murky waters of the River Clyde.  

My vantage point was from a little boat a few yards up from John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank.   As the morning progressed the crowds increased.....the invited guests in the yard and many thousands in the fields opposite.  Health and Safety would not have allowed that now but these folks were going to make a day of it and watch history being made.   

As this was before mobile phones etc. we were not sure when the great event was going to happen but those of us in our little boat enjoyed a small tincture of Scotland's national drink as we waited.      Then we heard a cheer and a few minutes later a rumbling noise gathered in volume as no. 736, now Queen Elizabeth 2, slid into the water as the great chains kept her at an even speed of 22mph.  

The crowds that had gathered in the fields opposite hadn't considered that there might be some waves, and there was!   Two feet waves hit the shore and we watched at the onlookers rushed backwards.  Needless to say there were a few who were not so nimble and got wet.  

We raised our glasses, which had been refilled, and drank a toast to the beautiful QE2.   

Never did I think that one day I would be a guest on that great ship, but on my 3rd meeting with my beloved ship I was onboard Voyage 839 when I had the pleasure of a couple of days floating about the English Channel, enjoying the sunshine and relaxing in Stateroom 1073.  

Whilst I was strolling along the deck I noticed an elderly gentleman bending down and gazing with a very critical eye at part of the teak railing on a stairway. Then he stroked it in a very loving way and walked away.  
Later in the day I saw him again, this time in the company of a lady, and again examining part of the ship's woodwork.    My curiosity got the better of me and I engaged them in conversation.............the story I heard was wonderful!  
His name was John, he had been a joiner in John Brown's shipyard and the railings were part of his work.   When he had fitted them he never thought that he would ever see any of his work again.   As with all workers he and his wife were invited to attend the launching ceremony but as he stood in the yard waiting for the arrival of Her Majesty he started to feel unwell and in fact, collapsed. He was rushed to the yard’s ambulance room where he lay holding his wife's hand whilst waiting for the ambulance to arrive.    
Suddenly, a bright light shone on to John's face as he heard a distance bang.  He thought that his moment had come and he had arrived in heaven but John was still firmly on Earth and the sudden shaft of light had been caused by the QE2 sliding down the slipway and making light enter the ambulance room for the first time in years!  
Well, John survived and here he was experiencing the ship he had helped to create, this time as a passenger.         
I saw the couple having a slow dance that evening and then walking out on to the deck.  My last image of John was of him stroking a section of railing as he and his wife walked towards the stern.            
We never met again but every time I was back in the ship I slid my hand along that section of woodwork in memory of John who took such pride in creating his wonderful ship.  

On my next meeting with the QE2 in 2007 I may have made a terrible mistake, you people can judge!  

We rounded a corner at Southampton Docks and there it was, that great funnel soaring into the sky on a beautiful sunny day.  We were directed into a departure area where staff pounced on the car and disappeared with the luggage whilst I handed over the keys of the car.   We were directed to the check-in desks and I must admit it was rather special to walk past all the queuing passengers and right up to the four empty Grills check in desks.   

I had booked for the Princess Grill but we were gives Stateroom 1034 and the Queens Grill.   Our photos were taken and we were escorted straight to the gangway and wished a very happy voyage.     When we entered the ship we were greeted by a Senior Officer and taken to our stateroom by a charming steward who offered to open our Champagne.........................from getting out of the car to drinking some Champagne (with our luggage delivered) had only taken 17 minutes !!  

Did I make a great mistake on our second evening or not?  

Well, we had a lovely table, No. 11 if I recall, which is the one in the brochure behind the Maitre'd doing a flambé.  Anyway, we were enjoying our dinner when the Asst. Head Waiter and the Maitre'd arrived at our table and told us that we had been invited to join the Captain at his table.   "Was this just for a night," I asked, 'No Sir, the whole voyage' was the reply.    Now I had not noticed the Captain in the Queens Grill so I ask where he dined and was told it was in the Caronia.    

It was at this point that we may have made a great mistake but we were so delighted to be in the Queens Grill that we told them to thank the Captain most sincerely but we loved the atmosphere etc. where we were.  An American surgeon and his partner who were at the next table leaned over and said 'Did I overhear you passing by a chance to dine with the Captain?    That's right, we told them.  Well, that went round the Grill like wildfire and when we left we could feel all the eyes on us.    We made for the Grill bar, ordered a drink, looked at each other and said “did we just do that”?  

The sun shone and we relaxed into out lovely trip enjoying every moment................  

On the afternoon of the third day, we returned to our room to find an envelope that had been pushed under the door.   I opened it to find enclosed an invite from The Wardroom President and Officers asking us to join them for cocktails in the Wardroom at 7.30pm.  I showed it to Doreen whose first comment was, "What will I wear"?  

This was a lovely occasion and it was nearly 9pm before we got to the Queens Grill, entering from the door nearest the bridge.   As we made our way to our table a couple joked “Was it drinks with the Captain?”  “No” I joked, “just the Officers tonight."    Our waiters seemed to know where we had been and assured us that we were not late and just to relax and enjoy.  This holiday was just getting better and better!  

Well, a few days later there was another envelope pushed under the door and when I opened it, there it was, an invite from the Captain to join him and his wife for a drink in his quarters.   When we entered the Grill that night it was after 9pm and the people joked about drinking with the crew!  “No, tonight it WAS the Captain!!  

This was probably the best time we had on QE2 but we will always wonder if we made a mistake.     We weren't being rude, we just liked the Queens Grill and we will never know why we were selected.