1936 - The Queen Mary leaves the Clyde


Originally too shallow to allow great ships to pass to and fro on it, the river Clyde had to be dredged and dynamited to make it deep enough for the great steam ships of the day to be built there. Starting in 1812 with the building of the Comet, Europe's first steam ship, the Clyde had gained a reputation for excellence. Clyde yards built some of the world's greatest liners, such as the Lusitania, the QE2 and the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary was the biggest passenger liner of her day at the time of her launch. Her building had originally been abandoned in the depression years, so her completion, royal naming and launch represented a triumph for everyone who worked on her and thousands of others from miles around came to witness her voyage down the Clyde on 25 March 1936.



The scene within the Clydebank yard of Messrs John Brown and Co. as early as nine o'clock yesterday was one of considerable animation, but this was due mainly to the arrival of motor cars and taxis bringing distinguished guests who were to make the voyage on board the Queen Mary to the Tail of the Bank and others to witness her departure from the fitting-out basin.

So far as the Clydebank workers were concerned it was to outward appearances an ordinary day, with hammers clanging and hydraulic riveters whirring on the hulls of vessels in course of construction.

But when the time came for the Queen Mary to start on her historic voyage work was stopped and all employees were given an opportunity of witnessing the departure and bidding farewell to a ship which has bulked largely in their minds for the past few years.

The giant liner, with freshly painted black hull and white upperwork looked magnificent as she lay at the wharf. At the foremast the 'Blue Peter' was flying, indicating her early departure; at the main was the house flag of Messrs John Brown and Co., as technically the ship had not yet been taken over by the Cunard White Star Line, while the Red Ensign fluttered over the stern.


The exact time when the vessel would begin her voyage was a matter which depended entirely on the state of the tide and Clydebank being so far from the open sea, that could not be determined beforehand with any degree of exactitude.

The time for the start was given approximately as 10.45 but it happened that yesterday the tide came up the river with surprising rapidity. Between 9 and 10 o'clock there was a rise of seven feet on the tidal gauge at the fitting-out basin. Those in command therefore decided on an earlier start.

The signal was accordingly given for the stoppage of all shipping traffic on the river; the two last vessels to pass down were the Blue Funnel liner Neleus bound for China and the cargo steamer Aleira, about half an hour before the Queen Mary drew out.


A small fleet of tugs were already in position round the huge liner. Ahead were the Paladin and the Clyde Shipping Company's Flying Eagle, and at the stern the Flying Falcon and the powerful tug Romsey from Southampton. Three more tugs, Flying Spray, the Flying Kite, and the Flying Foam were waiting in residence to take hawsers along the side of the vessel.

The moorings which had held the ship for some 18 months during the fitting-out process were cast off and the huge vessel, drawn and guided by the tugs, began to emerge into the navigable channel of the Clyde about three-quarters of an hour earlier than the scheduled time.

The Queen Mary was trimmed on an even keel, drawing between 33 and 34 feet of water fore and aft. Her movement out of the dock was naturally slow at first, but when the swirling waters at the stern indicated that her own propellers were turning the speed was accelerated.

In about half an hour the liner was in mid-stream and ready for the voyage.

The success of the preliminary operations showed how effective and thorough were the arrangements made by Messrs John Brown and Co. for the handling of the giant liner in the narrow waters of the river at Clydebank. Opposite the yard, on the Renfrew side, the navigable channel was marked by a line of buoys for some distance.

When all was in readiness to move the vessel out of the basin the signal had been given for work to cease in the yard. Every point of vantage was accordingly filled by workmen and those admitted to the yard to witness the event. The more daring among the yard hands climbed high on cranes and stagings to see the vessel depart, and as she moved majestically out of the basin she was sped on her way by cheering crowds, while the noise of low-flying aeroplanes added to the animation of the scene.

When the vessel had almost disappeared from view round the bend of the river at Dalmuir normal working conditions were resumed in the yard.


Probably no section of the crowd which witnessed the vessel drawing from the fitting-out basin felt the thrill of the occasion more than the hundreds of school children who formed part of the crowd at the Water Neb, near Renfrew.

They must have been the envy of school children all over the country as they derived an object lesson from an event of outstanding importance in the country's maritime history.

To all of those who had gathered in such close proximity to the vessel, but especially to the children it was an impressive moment when the sonorous blasts from the Queen Mary's sirens filled the air, indicating that she was ready for the active life which lies ahead of her.

Nothing could have been more calculated to appeal to the young imagination than to see the massive structure gently move in response to the pulling of the tugs.

The novelty of having the Queen Mary and her tugs as 'models' in the day's lessons was obviously not lost on the little spectators who watched intently as the stern of the vessel veered round towards them, giving a good impression of her tremendous bulk.


The crowds lining the river at Old Mains Farm, Inchinnan, and scattered over the fields there - viewpoints which have attracted thousands of sightseers during the past few months - were the first of the throng on the south bank to obtain a complete impression of the immense size of the liner. As she canted slowly until she reached mid-channel and her bows were directed straight down-stream by the straining tugs, the spectators marvelled at the towering height of the ship and its great length.

When the manoeuvre of 'straightening' the liner was completed there was a dignified beauty in the picture as the fitful sunlight on the water cast a shimmering reflection on the gleaming black hull. The Queen Mary then with grace and ease began the life for which she is destined.

The crowds felt somewhat awed; cheering was restrained, but there was wonder writ on every face at the masterpiece which has been fashioned by Clyde craftsmen.

Glasgow Herald, 25 March 1936. Reproduced by permission of The Herald.

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