As she majestically made her way down North Shore announcing her arrival with a six-chime steam whistle as she slipped through Two Rock Passage, there wasn’t a soul on the island that didn’t know the Queen of Bermuda had arrived.
When Furness and Withy’s Queen of Bermuda resumed her New York–Bermuda run in February 1949, it was a cause for celebration. As Duncan McDowall describes in Another World: Bermuda and the Rise of Modern Tourism, “the Queen was greeted in Hamilton by fire tugs, military bands and a throng of Bermudians, who sensed that her presence on the waterfront was the final assurance that the good old days had returned.” Some in that throng might have remembered the ship’s maiden voyage and her first arrival in Bermuda from New York in 1933. Sister of the Monarch of Bermuda, she became a familiar and much-loved sight when, with her three distinctive red and black striped funnels, she glided into Hamilton Harbour, bringing the wealthy and the famous from North America to enjoy Bermuda’s kinder winter climate, as well as its British ambience. But the Second World War broke out in 1939, instantly killing tourism, and the Queen disappeared from Bermuda to be transformed into a war ship. No wonder her return as a luxury liner was greeted with so much enthusiasm.
During the 1950s, the Queen once again became a familiar sight in Bermuda as she slid into port. Indeed, she could be heard before she was seen, as Bermudian Bob Doe, who as a boy would work on her from 1957–8, describes: “As the Queen was passing through Two Rock Passage inbound to Hamilton Harbour from the sea, that lovely melodic sound was a signal to the city to get ready to welcome the passengers from overseas. I have never heard before or since, a ship’s steam horn or whistle as beautiful as that of the Queen.” It was, he says, “a powerful six-chime steam whistle, the deep, melodic resonating sound of which would travel a great distance announcing her arrivals and departures.”
For Debbie Hollis, daughter of Magnus Musson, captain of the Queen from 1958 to her final voyage in 1966, the ship’s sound is a vivid childhood memory. “We always looked forward to Mondays when the Queen would come up the channel on north shore. We lived on North Shore Road where we were able to overlook the channel and see the Queen arriving and departing. Everyone on island knew when Dad was across the channel because the ship’s whistle would sound. He departed on Wednesday mornings and when the ship was passing our house, Dad would sound the whistle to say goodbye. It was always three blows.”
Captain Magnus Musson, who captained the Queen from 1958 until her final voyage in 1966.
Bermudian maritime painter, Captain Stephen Card, famous for his depictions of the Queen, shares a similar memory, recalling “the many Monday mornings when I would arrive by ferry in Hamilton and, instead of rushing to school, wait to watch the Queen slowly come alongside at Number One Dock.”
Many other people with gardens, patios or balconies overlooking the north shore, Spanish Point and Hamilton Harbour would stop to see the Queen cruise in. Numerous others would go to the City of Hamilton to greet her because, as Doe says, “All the docking activity—the tugs, the tying up, crews making her fast—was a spectacle unto itself and many people would come down to the harbour just to watch.” But meeting passengers was often a question of making a living. And so: “Surrey-topped taxies vied with the surrey-topped horse drawn carriages for prime parking spots on Front Street outside the passenger terminal, and when in place, the bow of the Queen would overshadow the ferry terminal docks and buildings nearby.”
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Queen was transformed into a war ship, serving as an armed merchant cruiser and troop ship. In 1947 she was returned to Furness Withy and refitted, resuming her pre-war route between New York and Bermuda in 1949, much to the delight of crowds who assembled to welcome her home.
Merchants in Bermuda would benefit from her arrival because originally known as one of the “Millionaires’ Ships” and later as the “Honeymoon Ship,” her passengers were often in search of British cashmere and fine china. For Americans on the eastern seaboard, Front Street in Hamilton was a more easily accessible alternative to London’s Oxford Street. But for Debbie, meeting the ship in Hamilton was all about reuniting with her father, the captain, and enjoying treats.
“After school, Mum would pick my brother [John Musson] and me up to take us to the ship to see Dad. We would run up the gangway leading to the ship, turn right, and head up the passageway to the elevator, which would take us up to the captain’s quarters. We always got there before Mum did. Dad would be waiting for us in his living room, smoking his pipe. Once we were all there, tea would be served with the iced tea cakes, which I absolutely loved. I always got to have a ginger ale too.”
It also meant reacquainting herself with members of his crew whom she knew: “After having our fill, I would then be off to make my visits. I would stop by the engine room for a visit with the chief engineer. [This was most likely a Mr Gordon, nicknamed Flash.] After this, I was off to the galley/kitchen where I would be lifted onto a shelf, which was on a half swinging door and receive my vanilla ice cream and sugar wafer. From here I would visit the pool (always empty of people when in port in those days). I loved pools. Off the pool was the gym which I would visit and where I’d ride the half mechanical horse. I would be gone for more than an hour visiting the crew and would make my way round the ship via the outside decks, working back to the bridge for my last visit. If I hadn’t made it back to Dad’s cabin by a certain time, Dad would call for me, using my nickname. I’d hear through the ship’s blowers, ‘Debbi Orah Anna Muss, please return to the captain’s quarters.’ This was my routine every time she came in.”
Sometimes, she would eat at the captain’s table when the ship was in port. “My favourite memory of eating at the captain’s table was getting green olives placed on the table to nibble on. These were always placed along with crusty rolls, oh, and black olives too.”
The Queen of Bermuda’s indoor swimming pool in 1933
For some young boys, the Queen was the focus of a dream. They would watch her come in and dream of travel, adventure and a life at sea for which they would actually be paid. Indeed, scores of Bermudians would enjoy, at least for a time, the fulfilment of that dream. Fortunately for us, some recorded their memories in memoirs and newspaper articles, and on websites such as www.furnessbermudaline.com. Others handed them down to their children. These memories are important because they give us an insight into what life on the ship was like behind the scenes, behind the glamour and the glitz. They evoke a world that the rich and famous passengers, such as US President Harry Truman, Princess Soraya of Iran, and celebrities, Doris Day and Noel Coward, most likely never noticed even though their comfort and luxury depended on the crew working tirelessly for their benefit.
As already mentioned, Bob Doe was one such 15-year-old Bermudian who joined as a bellboy. He describes in his unpublished but invaluable memoir, A Bell Boy’s Memories of the Ocean Liner Queen of Bermuda (1957 to 1958), how he applied for the position at the shipping agent’s office in Hamilton for an interview. “Somehow, I was chosen to be among the accepted. You can guess at the mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation that I felt, leaving the home nest for the first time!”
Roydelle Matthews remembers her father Gerald (Joe) Leroy Smith working on the Queen, as a steward and utility man from 1951 to 1952 and again in 1966. Other Bermudians include Charles Curtis and William Harvey, who spent 21 years on the ship, as well as members of the Soares families in Spanish Point. John A. Soares and Allen Soares both joined the Queen as bellboys at the age of fifteen. Allen worked on board from 1961–1965, eventually becoming a waiter. Another Bermudian, Allan Davidson, joined as a cadet in 1956, moving through the ranks to become a junior chief officer. He remembers as many as 146 Bermudians working on the Queen during his time.
Given the Furness Withy Line was British, it’s hardly surprising that many of the crew were British, including Captain Musson, his predecessor Captain Banyard, and Staff Captain Ian Saunders.
Born in England, in 1894, Leslie Banyard was the only member of his family to go to sea. Joining the Prince Line (taken over by Furness and Withy in 1913), he rose through the ranks. He commanded ten ships during his career, becoming captain of the Queen of Bermuda in 1949, once it resumed the New York–Bermuda passage. He was popular with both passengers and crew, receiving over 1,500 Christmas cards a year. He and his wife had a home in Fairylands. Bermudian Bob Doe remembers his son, Ricky, who attended his school. “I remember his mother made good cookies!” Daughter of Captain Musson, Debbie Hollis explains, “Dad and Captain Banyard were very close. He was always very jolly. I have many happy memories visiting Captain and Jane Banyard’s house in Point Shares. Their house was on the water just before the bridge. Every year during the spring and summer all the families and crew would go by lifeboats from the Queen to Captain Banyard’s house where we would have a big picnic. All the food and drink were also transported beforehand from the Queen by lifeboat. It was always so much fun.”
In April 1957, Captain Banyard had completed 800 voyages and was looking forward to retiring in Bermuda. The following year he had a fatal heart attack while playing golf at Riddell’s Bay. All the flags on the Queen were lowered at half-mast.
One notable British crew member was Tommy Hicks, later to become Tommy Steele, one of Britain’s first rock stars, and after that a famous lead in musicals such as Half a Sixpence. What makes him important for the purposes of this article is not just his fame. His beautifully written memoir, Bermondsey Boy: Memories of a Forgotten World, about his South London blitz childhood includes lively memories of later experiences onboard the Queen. After training with Cunard, he had joined the Scythia in 1951 but contracted meningitis while on leave. After recovering, he saw a Furness and Withy Line advertisement for cabin boys to join the Queen in New York. At the age of sixteen, courtesy of Furness and Withy, he voyaged first class with two other British lads to New York aboard the French liner the Flandre. He was able to do so because he was not yet a crew member—there was no such thing as second or third class as was also true during the time he was on the Queen of Bermuda. As the ship docked, he could see the Queen right next to her. He describes walking down the passenger gangway of the Flandre and heading to the crew plank of the Queen. “From riches to rags in about fifty yards,” he writes. That said, he was immediately aware of the ship’s “affluence”: “You could feel it below deck in the glory hole. To begin with, all the portholes were open—the Atlantic was at its most friendly in this part of the world.
Bob Doe acutely recalls his first day when “I was hustled aboard [in Bermuda] with only a small duffle bag containing basic toiletries, underwear, pjs, civvies.” Like the other bellboys, he was supplied with clothes: “Shoes, a snappy sharp dark blue uniform, double-breasted jacket with trousers to match that had a red stripe down the sides, and smart white gloves. The jackets had two rows of round brass buttons that, along with our shoes, required a great deal of attention, constant polishing acceptable to the standards of our daily morning inspection at dawn on ‘A’ deck by the Bell Captain, Mr Cauley.
“After inspection, we had a brisk march around the A deck, then were led off to breakfast in the galley where we lined up behind three huge, heated vats which separately contained the porridges of oatmeal, whole wheat and cream of wheat. Those huge vats must have supplied us and the whole crew and passengers too.”
After breakfast, bellboys were allotted their duties, which included manning the many elevators, carrying bags and messages and operating the 24-hour automated laundry near the stern. According to the coffee table book Queen of Bermuda and the Furness Bermuda Line by Piers Plowman and Stephen J. Card, the linen carried on the ship included 10,000 sheets and 36, 000 face towels, all of which had to be washed. Bellboys might also be found in the kitchen washing up. The book records every year afternoon tea alone required 7,500 cups, saucers and teapots. Sometimes, the staff became so bored with washing up, they would throw the china overboard. That is why Royal Doulton “Exotic Bird” pattern crockery can still be found in many a Bermudian household. Their ancestors would dive for it in Hamilton Harbour.
Notable former crew member Tommy Hicks, later to become known as Tommy Steele, one of Britain’s first rock stars.
Tommy Hicks’s duty was to man the elevator from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and then assist with horse racing and bingo in the main lounge until 1 a.m. He loved talking to people on the elevators where his Cockney accent had such an effect on the mostly American passengers “they would open up like the Red Sea.” But later, like Allen Soares, he was promoted to waiter. Allen tells how there was always silver service in the dining room. “Instead of having a plate of food put in front of guests, they were served from large platters and serving dishes.”
In his book, Tommy Steele explains the skill involved when he describes how he spent time watching the captain’s waiter, Pat Futcher, at work. Futcher, he says, was English, “kind and engaging but as a professional servant he was a tyrant to those he thought ‘below the call.’” He was known as “the tiger.” For three hours Tommy stood behind the cold buffet in the dining room. As instructed, he was wearing white tie and wing collar, white gloves and polished shoes and showing no evidence of chewing forbidden gum. “I saw the tiger stalk his prey. I saw a table laid to geometrical perfection and a meal presented with such panache that if you could have framed it, it would have hung at the Tate as a work of art.”
Futcher then asked him to take petits fours to the captain’s drawing room (where years later Debbie would see her father smoking his pipe) and lay out “cups, saucers, spoons, two pots coffee, plus cream, hot milk, sugar and napkins – now!”
Mission successfully accomplished, Tommy was told to study the dinner menu. When the following evening he was questioned on the main ingredient of mulligatawny soup, he came up with the tentative answer, “Owl?” Despite his lack of culinary knowledge, he was asked to serve iced water and rolls at the captain’s table. As usual, Captain Banyard had fifteen guests (it was considered unlucky to have an odd number at table) and as usual he started with an opening joke. “This reminds me of the time we had the Hobsons travel with us. I sent my compliments and asked if they would like to dine at the captain’s table. ‘Not on your life,’ they replied. ‘We didn’t spend all this money to eat with the crew.’” It was always the same joke every night. Futcher had instructed Tommy to start circumnavigating the round table at the opening line of the joke so that by the time the captain finished, Tommy would be able to serve water to the lady on the captain’s left. But on this particular evening, the captain added a playful tap on the lady’s hand just as Tommy was moving in with the silver jug. As Tommy describes, the captain’s hand hit the jug into the air. “The silver jug landed in the middle of the table smashing four crystal candelabra and a water-filled flower bowl, which with the half-full jug of iced water, gave the splash of a lifetime. Not one guest escaped.” Which is ironic, considering the joke. Thankfully, they all had a sense of humour.
The tiger was apparently fair minded, keeping Tommy serving iced water and rolls to the captain for a month. But Tommy survived the incident to eventually become a waiter, serving with Futcher as a “very junior partner.” Amazed by the tips, his “mind boggled at the prospect of retiring at 21.”
Of course, the main lure of working on the ship was the chance to visit different ports where the boys could spend their pay and their tips. Visits to and from New York in the summer and to the Caribbean in the winter exposed them not just to new sights but to a diversity of experiences. Both Bob Doe and Tommy Hicks were emotionally affected by the poverty in Haiti. Doe has a vivid memory of the Queen being the last cruise liner to leave Cuba at the time of the revolution. “When we left, there was a very active battle with gunfire and artillery going on across Havana Harbour. On our way out, Castro finally blew up the oil tanks, behind our retreating stern.”
The Queen of Bermuda and the Ocean Monarch cross paths in New York City.
As the sinking of the Titanic so tragically proved, no ship however big and luxurious, can presume invincibility against the elements. The Queen of Bermuda was royally sumptuous but she, too, was subject to the vagaries of the weather as Captain Banyard experienced on several occasions. For example, in 1953 the Queen was caught in Hurricane Carol during which a senior seaman Eric Edser fell on the sundeck and died of a fractured skull and broken neck. Bob Doe vividly recalls a hurricane in 1957 during which “Captain Banyard had to take a chance to turn tail to the seas or face the real possibility of the Queen sinking by the bow… On that turn, it seemed all that then happened was in slow motion. As the ship rolled into the turn, all the carpeting and chairs and anything else not secured slid down against the windows in a great pile, those windows were now facing down at the maelstrom below.” Once in port he could see the damage done to the ship: “…the stove-in steel hatch cover, the unbelievable damage to the reinforced steel deck breakwater that was literally peeled back as if were made of thin tin… the exterior steel access ladders welded onto the foredeck leading up to the next deck were literally twisted and torn away.” Doe was later told that the Queen “rolled seven degrees down past her designed safe recovery angle.”
Captain Banyard was no stranger to dangerous manoeuvres as a rescue carried out two years previously in a severe winter storm proved. According to Piers Plowman’s book, on January 4, 1955, the Queen was en route from New York to Bermuda when the following day she received an SOS from a small cargo ship, the Student Prince II, carrying salt from Nicaragua to St. John’s Newfoundland. Twenty-foot waves and winds Gale Force 8 had cracked the Student Prince’s seam along the keel, flooding the engine room. Her crew had manned hand pumps for 36 hours. “Captain Banyard immediately ordered the Queen to the rescue and was guided to the scene by three coast guards and two Air Force planes.” Upon reaching the cargo ship, January 6, he ordered oil to be pumped overboard to smooth the waves. The Student Prince tried to launch her own lifeboats, but both were destroyed. Under the command of then Staff Captain Magnus E. Musson, the Queen‘s Lifeboat No 3 carrying eight able seamen headed to the cargo ship. All the crew, including Captain H. Thomasen, were rescued although one jumping into the lifeboat broke his leg. Rowing back to the Queen was hazardous and extremely hard work. The released oil made the oars and thwarts slippery, making it difficult to balance and row the boat. Finally, Captain Musson succeeded in securing the boat alongside the Queen without it being smashed to pieces. Captain Banyard had to manoeuvre the ship so that it was sheltered from the impact of waves and storms and twice had to take quick action to prevent the lifeboat from crashing into the Queen. One of the rescue crew was hit by a swinging lifeboat block during the lifting operation. All the men were covered in oil. But they were safe. One hour later, the Student Prince II sank. No wonder Staff Captain Musson and his eight crew were later honoured by the Royal Humane Society. In addition, the people of Newfoundland gave binoculars to both captains and a £36 cheque to each of the crew. After Captain Banyard died in 1958, Staff Captain Musson took over command of the Queen of Bermuda until her last voyage in 1966.
Time off in New York meant exposure to all the city’s key attractions. For Doe it was an opportunity to buy comics, which he would import duty free and sell at “a good profit at Mrs Birdsey’s book shop at the end of Washington Lane once back in Bermuda.” He also bought from Macy’s department store pet shop two baby alligators which he successfully smuggled into Bermuda although not without difficulty. “Those alligator babies were not the best natured at the best of times and were trying to take a sideswipe piece out of me with their razor-sharp teeth at any sudden movement. It was a very slow and painful and blood-stained descent down that long steep crew gangway, under the keen scrutiny of the Customs.”
Quite what happened to the alligators, he doesn’t know. But as he says, “Certainly there have never been reports of creatures in the mangrove swamps over the years…”
Tommy Hicks would be drawn to the excitement of Times Square where he would watch musical after musical and fall in love with country music, especially that of Hank Williams. Back on board, “every other member of the crew had a radio or a gramophone so there was constant music about the place.” Tommy added to it by singing Danny Kaye’s rendition of “Kaw-Liga,” over and over. He could not play the guitar at that time but a member of the kitchen crew, Cookie from Haiti, who became a good friend, could. The two would perform at staff parties and concerts held in the crew’s bar, the Pig and the Whistle. They even performed at a concert for passengers in the main lounge, thus beginning Tommy’s musical career.
Working on the Queen gave the bellboys maturity; it was both a rite of passage and an education, at least for those who joined her at a young age. They learned to work with shipmates of different ethnicities and in some cases of a different sexual orientation. They also had to communicate with passengers. “You had to learn how to serve people in the right manner,” Allan Davidson told a Royal Gazette reporter. “You just had to learn as you went.”
The Queen of Bermuda makes her emotional final departure from Bermuda on November 23rd, 1966.
All of them coped with long and arduous work schedules. As Allen Soares explained, he often worked 10- to 12-hour days, starting at 7:30 a.m. But despite fights that sometimes broke out among members, there was a general camaraderie. “It was like a family and that was a really good thing. The ship had 460 crew on board. You got to know quite a few of them. As bellboys we used to live six to a cabin so we had bunk beds, but as you progressed up the ladder you would be four to a cabin.”
The camaraderie seemed to cross the ranks even though strict discipline was enforced. Tommy Steele remembers Pat Futcher with affection and admiration. Bob Doe recalls Mr Savage, Master at Arms (an on-board policeman). “An apt name,” Doe writes, “as he was a huge man with an imposing presence, a disapproving look permanently etched on his face, a glowering exterior and a braided cap to top it all! We later discovered that it was to disguise a big soft heart within. And, on the always friendly side with even a greater kind heart, was Chief Staff Steward Ivor Atkinson, a father to all the bellboys, and the longest serving officer onboard.” While Tommy Steele recalls Second Steward Atkins, “the spitting image of Arthur Askey, with humour to match—a lovely man.”
No wonder then so many remember serving on the Queen with such fondness. “It taught me about independence and responsibility,” says Allen Soares. “It forced me to grow up.”
Perhaps Tommy Steele should have the last word. “…the Queen of Bermuda was a happy ship—I could tell as soon as I boarded her.”