My parents, Ken and Norma Gladstone, were honoured to be invited onboard the Queen Mary 2 last week to attend a ceremony to commemorate the Australian troops who sailed off to war on two Cunard liners – the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth – 70 years ago.
Dad, now 85, was one of 50 WWII veterans invited to take part in the ceremony on QM2’s top deck, which included the laying of wreaths by dignitaries General Peter Cosgrove, former Chief of Defence, and Peter Shanks, president of Cunard Line.
While my father was only 15 when the “two Queens” met in Sydney back in April 1941, about six of the veterans at last week’s event had been aboard one of the ships (then painted camouflage grey) when they left the harbour bound for Singapore and the Middle East. In fact my father’s eldest brother, the late Reg Gladstone, had sailed off to serve in Palestine on Queen Mary in May 1940.
My father joined the 7th Division, 2nd/31st Battalion and served in Borneo in 1945; after the war he continued to be involved with the battalion and served concurrently as its president, secretary and treasurer for more than 20 years. In 2007 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the welfare of veterans and their families.
My parents loved every minute of their time aboard QM2 and received VIP treatment, being driven door-to-door by taxi and escorted on board the ship by a naval
officer. They were treated to drinks and canapés before taking their seats on deck for the formalities. At noon they watched Queen Elizabeth cruise out of the harbour, and had lunch in the Britannia restaurant.
Mum chose the grilled asparagus, bocconcini and tomato relish for entrée, and the pan-roasted salmon, blackened shrimps and chive hollandaise for main, while Dad had the baked mushroom and crab brioche thermidor to start, and the roasted beef tenderloin shiitake mushroom and onion confit with truffle mash for main. And both finished with the Tarte aux Pommes with Cornish cream.
They mingled with dignitaries including Don Rowe, the NSW RSL president, and Dick Paton, president of the 7th Division who is in his 90s. Over lunch they met a couple from the Central Coast who were sailing out on the ship that afternoon, bound for Hong Kong.
My parents said it was a magnificent, “very regal” occasion and managed to get a look at several public rooms during a short ship tour.
My mother’s only regret was that they weren’t sailing away on her as well.