Next week, Queen Elizabeth’s funeral will command the largest TV audience ever at an estimated 4 million viewers. Perhaps a little known side of her life was her amazing maritime record.
As Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen got her first impression of what christening a new ship involved on September 27 1938. At the age of 12, she and her sister, Princess Margaret, accompanied their mother to the John Brown Shipyard in Clydebank. From the rostrum she watched as the biggest ship in the world at the time – Cunard’s mighty Queen Elizabeth – was launched.
As the towering ship slipped stern-first down an inclined slipway and splashed into the sea for the first time, the cheers of hundreds of thousands of people lining the banks of the River Clyde undoubtedly impressed the young Princess.
From there, she made her own maritime history. Queen Elizabeth II christened 21 ships during her lifetime, more than anyone else in the nation’s history. She officiated for five Cunard ocean liners, two of P&O Cruises’ ships, and a mini-armada of Royal Navy craft, not to mention her own Royal Yacht.
On November 30 1944, Princess Elizabeth launched her first ship – HMS Vanguard – Britain’s biggest and fastest battleship; three years later, for her last public engagement before her wedding to Lieutenant Mountbatten, she returned to Clydebank to launch Cunard’s Caronia. As Queen, the ships she launched include some of the most celebrated in recent maritime history.
The Queen’s Fleet
Built specifically for transatlantic crossings and leisurely warm-weather cruising, Cunard’s Caronia, would be affectionately nicknamed the “Green Goddess” due to her distinctive livery of four shades of green, similar to Liverpool’s trams. At the launch on October 30 1947 in Clydebank, the Princess and her future husband, Lieutenant Mountbatten, were greeted by a crowd of 30,000 spectators in “wild fashion” according to a local newspaper.
The Princess’s association would remain throughout the luxurious vessel’s career; her portrait – depicting the Prince and Princess in a pastoral setting on their honeymoon at Broadlands – occupied pride of place in the main lounge. Sadly, the fate of Caronia was an ignominious one. Under tow to ship-breakers in Taiwan; she foundered off the coast of Guam.