Cunard’s RMS Queen Elizabeth magic lantern slides

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As you probably know from previous posts, I like social history photographs, especially industrial ones and today’s three magic lantern slides definitely float my (and Cunard’s) boat. They show the construction of the RMS Queen Elizabeth which, when launched in 1938, was the largest ocean liner in the world.

It was built on the River Clyde by the John Brown shipyard and was a little larger than its sister ship, the Queen Mary, which was already in service.

Both were designed for the cross-Atlantic run between Southampton and New York, via Cherbourg (before aeroplanes could do it cheaper and faster) and were in competition with other shipping lines offering a similar service. When deciding which to use, passengers might be swayed by the luxurious décor but, for many, the main criterion was the journey time, so these ships were built for speed. Nothing changes, of course, and in the UK we’re about to build a new railway line, HS2, that will cost billions of pounds and reduce the journey time between London and Birmingham by thirty minutes! By the way, the ship was called the ‘RMS’ Queen Elizabeth because for twenty years Cunard had the contract to carry mail between the UK and USA and the prefix stands for Royal Mail Ship.

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The fate of the two ships is fairly well known, one survived, one didn’t. The Queen Mary is now permanently moored at Long Beach in California and is a museum, tourist attraction and hotel. The Queen Elizabeth, shown here, was a Second World War troop ship before belatedly starting service as an ocean liner in 1946. Unfortunately, by then, the market for transatlantic crossings in large, luxurious ships was in decline and Cunard replaced its liners with smaller, more economical vessels. The Queen Elizabeth had a succession of owners until it caught fire in Hong Kong harbour in 1972 and was subsequently cut up for scrap.

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