John started his career at sea in 1955. He served in both the Royal and Merchant Navy. His first ship was H.M.S. Vanguard. Here is is standing beneath the 15 inch guns on that ship. John's career over the years spanned many wonderful ships. He served in QE2, Cunard Ambassador, Cunard Princess all for Cunard. He also served with Princess Cruises aboard their ships during intervals in the 1980s. Alongside John was his partner Geoff Pratt. The two served together aboard each of these ships and were quite famous. Most anyone who was there at the time will recall John and Geoff. They were known for their outstanding service and professionalism. They are fortunate in that they were able to experience QE2 in her original state before any changes had been made by Trafalgar. John has graciously shared some memories with us. We get to see the QE2 through his eyes and learn of a most wonderful period for this famous ship.
I had just left another ship. An Esso tanker as I was nearly always on Cargo ships and tankers until I joined the QE2. This is what happened. We were within sight of the QE2 in the distance and the Chief Officer called me up to the bridge and pointed out the QE2 in the distance and said "That's the next ship" you should go on. I was Officers steward on the tanker. I signed off and went home on leave.
When my leave was up I had to go to the Shipping Federation to report to be offered another ship. I was within hearing distance of the man behind the desk whom was on the phone to Southampton Shipping Federation. I heard him say they would try to get someone over to join as Officers pantryman. My ears pricked up and I remembered what the Chief Officer had said on the tanker and couldn't wait to ask for the job. The best thing I ever did. I remained on passenger ships for always after that. I really did go through the jobs on board and worked my way up to Bedroom Steward and Grill Room waiter.
No mean achievement. I was once the entertainers steward for some time. It was a great job and I was very popular with the entertainment staff. I treated them very well and they were very good to me. Unfortunately the lad one came back as he had been ill and to the horror of the entertainers he got his job back. They couldn't get me permanently as the union said the other guy was entitled to his old job back. However they gave me the Hotel Managers steward's job instead which was very good as I eventually made passenger Bedroom Steward.
When I arrived alongside it was so big I could not believe my eyes. The only ship I had seen this big was the Queen Mary. We had to buy all the uniform except for the jacket which was provided. It was the first ship to use roll neck shirts as part of the uniform. It looked very smart. The outfits were designed by Hardie Amies the fashion designer for royalty. The trousers were supposed to be brown with a chocolate stripe down the side but they changed their minds. Probably because it would have cost the company too much money to supply us. The roll neck shirts did not stay long as they went out of fashion and we ended up using ordinary ones. The security was not as strict in those days so we just had a paper pass.
When I joined I was put in to a 6 berth cabin as we were not considered to be in a high enough job to warrant a 2 berth cabin. These were given to Bedroom Stewards. Waiters were usually put into 4 berth cabins depending on the restaurant you were working in. My cabin mates were fabulous and very understanding. A great time was had by all. I don't remember my cabin number though. When you came back from leave you never knew what cabin you would be given. My first few days were very exciting exploring the ship etc. All my workmates were great and helped me settle in. I took to it like a duck to water so to speak.
Most of the engine room difficulties had been ironed out during the trials. They had a lot of trouble with the turbines to start with. I remember one incident when the ship stopped dead and they had to clear the intakes because they were blocked up with jellyfish. They asked for volunteers from the crew to help. Must admit I did not volunteer. Smart move !!!!! The ship was very bad in storms and moved about a lot . Not surprising on the Atlantic crossings. The movement was very rough though. The windows used to break in the Britannia Restaurant frequently and calls were put out
There was a big breakdown off Bermuda in the 70's and the ship was completely dead in the water. We had to wait 4 days for the tugs to arrive from New York to tow the ship back to New York.
Then there was the time she broke down in the Great Barrier Reef and she was drifting dangerously. We were on leave at the time so I cant fill you in on this one 100%.
There were a couple of bomb scares. We were on for one when they had to miss calling at Cherbourg and sail straight for Southampton at full speed. This was scary. Nothing was found though. Before we sailed on the Israel Cruise they had divers inspecting the hull when we were tied up. Then again in all ports we called into.
There was the time in the 70's when they had the raid on the ship looking for guns hidden by the IRA. They found them hidden in panels in the cabins in 5 Deck. Some of the crew was arrested including Bedroom Stewards working on 5 Deck.
All the New Years Eve and Christmas celebrations were excellent. One or two stand out in my memory. One year one of the regular passengers who always insisted on sitting on our section in the Queens Grill threw a Christmas party for Geoff me and the Section head waiter in her suite on One Deck. Needless to say we had rather a lot to drink and sort of toppled into the Grill Room to serve the meal. We were OK though. Just!!! She gave us a lovely present of a Waterford crystal bowl, which we still have in our lounge.
Then there was the first Christmas cruise. We were in New York on a stay over and Captain Warwick threw a dinner in the Britannia Restaurant for all the crew. It was a huge event with wine, crackers and all the trimmings. What a night ashore we had after that !!!!!!!! We always looked forward to the ship being decorated
I was thinking of another thing that happened on QE2. Bet you have not heard this one. When the ship first sailed unbeknown to the passengers their cabin keys fitted most of the other cabins. This went on for sometime until the company had to do something about it. It is a fact that the master key that fitted the cabins also fitted the lock on our front door - what about that then. The locks were all basic types not Chubb or Yale. Incidentally the ship never went to Cobh in Ireland again after the guns fracas.
The cruises were definitely no easier then the transatlantic crossings. If you were in bedrooms
On the first world cruise when we went ashore in Mombasa by tender we couldn't get back on time as the officers decided they would only allow passengers to board. They kept us waiting so long that the meals had started in the restaurant when we arrived. They tried to fine us all but the union squashed it as it was not our fault. Once I nearly missed the ship in Lisbon but was lucky as the ship was late leaving. Too much bevvy!!
Just at the entrance to the Queens Grill we had two passengers on the 2 table who were rowing. The man kicked the Ice bucket on stand over. The Ice shot all over the carpet. One of our other passengers shouted out he's the one who did it (such drama). Then there was the passenger who carried all her jewels in a carrier bag with her. She came on many cruises and was well known. It was an autograph collector's haven. So many famous people. I have a lot of autographs myself.
The most memorable port on the 1st World cruise was Hong Kong. Of course our favorite port was New York particularly when over night!!!
We remember the addition of the suites on signal deck. They took away the tennis court and the kids play area for them. Then came the addition of the Penthouses which was a bit of a naff thing as we used to meet passengers on this deck at night!! I think I told you we had the run of the penthouses as Geoff and I were put in charge of looking after them during the refit after the Falklands. Very honoured.
It was lovely when Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had her Celebration Lunch in the Queens Grill in honour of the Falkland War. All the top army brass were there. She was so nice. There was a harpist playing all through the luncheon.
RE: The 86 Refit -
We were very upset to hear that they took away the spiral staircase in the Double Up Double Down Room. I remember standing on the staircase and watching the Brazilian Dance Troupe giving a show there. Poor souls were all killed in a plane crash soon after. Did you remember Judy Abbott the singer? Her husband Trevor had a heart attack the day they joined Cunard Countess and they had to sign off. She still worked on cruise staff for sometime after. I used to do the spots in the Double Down for her sometimes when I was Entertainer's Steward.
The tapestries originally hung outside the Columbia Restaurant didn't they. We were one of the first crew to work in the Princess Grill too. Have you ever eaten in there? This was of course the original Grill Room.
The Columbia Restaurant. It was so elegant and had the lovely entrance. Those glass balustrades on the staircase and the fabulous black glass partitions in the room. They have been replaced with a monster design. Makes our hair curl. The lovely midnight blue carpet and ivory panels on the staircase and mirrored strips on the leather panels were something else. Why do people have to go and mess things up. Glad to hear the tapestries are still around.
The Princess Grill was definitely the most beautiful restaurant of all. The glass DAUM crystal trees were a great addition added when the Princess Grill opened again. We have one which I bought in St Thomas on one of my first trips there. Such a shame they did away with the crowns on the red velvet bulkheads. They looked so elegant. Our side jobs after meals were to brush the velvet panels. Hardly a work up.
on the Tannoy system for the Carpenter to fix things. They used to board the windows up. We were always able to complete our jobs though.
throughout by Macys Staff every Christmas. They made the ship look beautiful. It took them a whole cruise. After about 3 years the company stopped it and the poor old cruise staff had to do it.
the workload was the same. In the restaurant some passengers went on tours so missed lunch. Of course in the old days when we were in ports for much longer, sometimes four days, the work was easier. In
cabins we used to have watches off so we could go ashore. In the restaurant you were either on afternoon teas or after dinner jobs. But we always managed to get ashore sometime. They introduced fire watches when in port so you had to make sure you were not on these.
John and Geoff are much like the crew of the old Queens Mary and Elizabeth. Known by their passengers for attention to every detail, they were requested in advance by their loyal passengers, who were often household names. They epitomize a period of British excellence in the high seas which, unfortunately, is a bygone era. Thankfully, they have been generous to share with us their memories of this most wonderful ship - RMS Queen Elizabeth2.