That's the end of an Auld Sang.' Lord Bel- haven's famous comment on the end of the Scottish Estates on the union of the Parlia- ments of Scotland and England in 1707, came into my mind as I read the story of the launch- ing of what, it turned out, is to be the 'Queen Elizabeth IL' For the auld sang of the Clyde seems to be coming to an end. No passenger ship of the size of the 'Elizabeth II' will ever move down to the Tail of the Bank again.
Traditionally, great ships, when they are completed, leave the Clyde for ever, steering past Ailsa Craig (from which, as everyone knows, you can steer due south to the great Antarctic continent), never to revisit the Clyde again. But, as someone suggested, the proper pipe tune on 20 September should have been lochaber no more.'
I wish I could be more hopeful about the future of the 'Elizabeth II' than I am. I have sympathy with the protests of Scottish nationalists against giving this title to the ship. But, after all, the sequence is not that of sovereigns, but of ships and this is 'Elizabeth IL' whereas the 'Queen Mary' was not the 'Queen Mary I,' a title stolen from a much better LMS Clyde steamer which was forced to adopt the false title of the 'Queen Mary II.' (I have received from South Africa, a propos of earlier remarks of mine about the 'Queen Mary,' a letter rebuking me for asserting that the 'Queen Mary' was launched in 1931. She was, of course, laid down that year.) My doubts are in part those which I see are shared by the shipping correspondent of The Times: whether the great ship has a future and whether, if she has, the Cunard Line is suitable for the new kind of life these ships must live. The Cunard Line was above cruising. It was not only that the 'Queens' could not pass through the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal or enter many of the chief cruising ports. The de haut en bas attitude of the Cunard to its rivals didn't help in the highly competitive tourist trade which replaced the old passenger trade. The new passengers seek the sun, and this gives an advantage to the Italian ships working out of Genoa or Naples. After the First World War, the British government, Perhaps characteristically, lent money to Beard- more's to build ships for Italy, and Beardmore's built the 'Conte Verde,' the 'Conte Rosso' and (1 am not sure, but it is possible) the 'Conte Biancarnano,' which combined to drive the great Glasgow Anchor Line out of the Mediter- ranean.
The gloom (and resentment of the name) which are reported from Clydebank, are symptomatic of a disillusionment between John Brown's. and the Cunard Line. I certainly wish the 'Elizabeth II' every success. For merely logistic reasons, I now- fly the Atlantic much more often than I sail it, but if I had the time I would always sail it; and I intend. to sail in the 'Elizabeth assoon as her and my time tables suit each other.
There is that magical moment which you get only from a ship, the 'landfall,' so admir- ably described by Conrad in one of his essays. I
have crossed, the Atlantic by ship in every month of the year, and suddenly to see the lights of Cape Race in the darkness or to see, in the distance, the sky lit up from New York cannot be equalled by any landing by aeroplane. Then, it is a pleasure no plane can give to join one of the great ships—the 'Queens,' the 'France,' even the 'United States'—in winter, escaping the snow of New York, the rain or sleet of Southampton or Cherbourg, and move at once into the warmth, comfort and womb- like atmosphere of a great ship. But I share the general sadness on Clydebank. I have family connections with John Brown's. It was the most famous if not quite the best of the Clyde yards. It was vastly superior to Fairfield. The people vAso worked at John Brown's felt superior to everybody except possibly those who worked at Denny's.
The John Brown's workers (at all levels) also felt superior to the distant workers in the Royal Dockyards—again at all levels. There was that no doubt absurd `scuttlebur (as the Yankees put it) that the Admiralty costing system was so faulty and the management at Chatham, Portsmouth, Devonport so foolishly lavish, that the profits on the battleships made it possible for John Brown's (and other Clyde yards) to make very low tenders for liners. And it was not only a question of costs. My half-brother, now long dead, relayed to me the views of the drawing office at Clydebank in which he worked, that it was only the second ship in any naval class that was fit for the job. Not till John Brown's had gone over the drawings, had made adjustments and the naval vessel had been tried, out by a John Brown's crew, was it really ready. (My brother was always sent on the trial trips as, among other merits, he was a teetotaller.) He thought, for instance, that HMS 'Tiger' was vastly superior to HMS 'Lion.' He also thought that HMS `Barham' was likely to prove superior to HMS 'Queen Elizabeth.' But there was no trial trip for the 'Barham,' as it had to be got ready to join the Grand Fleet in a hurry in August 1914. The 'Barham' did not perform perfectly at Jutland, but that was, he said, the fault of German gunnery, not of John Brown's.
But the varying performances of ships is one reason why I was never able to take seriously the train hobbies of my friends. I remember how surprised I was when I heard Christopher Hollis (whom then I didn't know) stress his loyalty to the GWR at a Balliol St Catherine's Day dinner. We backed British India against the P and 0. And there was the Clan Line, with its bulging sides, designed, we believed to do down the Suez Canal Company. There was the line unkindly known as 'the Hungry Hogarths' (a reference to the traditional refusal of the owners to 'set a plentiful table'). There were our very own North American lines; Anchor, Allan, Donaldson. There were the lascar sailors in the India Dock; there were the French sailors from the great sailing ships that brought bauxite from New Caledonia to feed the nascent aluminium industry at Kinloch- leven. There were 'Spanish sailors with bearded lips' from Huelva and all
`the beauty and mystery of the ships and the magic of the sea.'
So when -I see schoolboys 'train spotting' at Cambridge station, instead of computing ton- nage and speeds all down the river or daring the wash of the 'Columbia' on the shore at Gourock, as she put out into the Firth for New York, I pity them. Now, alas, I will have to pity the once privileged children of the Clyde!
The last great Clyde spectacle I saw was in the early summer of 1943. I was up in Glasgow on official business and went, with my wife, to see the editor of the Glasgow Herald, Sir Wil- liam Fobieson. 'Take Olwen down to Gourock and take her over to Dunoon.' I replied that she had often seen that magnificent view on the most beautiful of estuaries. (Only Hobart comes near it.) 'Take her all the same.' I did, and inside the Boom along which 1 had been chased as a small schoolboy by irate Territorial sentries in 1914, was the greatest fleet I had ever seen, battleships, carriers,- destroyers, submarines, transports. There was the 'lie-de-France' and the 'Stefan Batory'; there was the 'Marnix van St Aldegonde'; there were representatives of all the great British lines. It was the second Sicilian expedition passing through the Boom. There were not the sounding trumpets of the Athenian expedition to Sicily and there had been no destruction of the Hermes. But had I known that the great fleet was sailing for Sicily, I should have murmured 'absit omen.' Eighty troop trains a day had been coming into Glas- gow and not a.word of it was known to minor characters like myself in London. Those were the days when the first big city many hundreds of thousands of Americans saw was Glasgow. And where an amorous et accosting a floozie with 'Are you free, Baby?', received the sensible Glasgow reply: 'Am no' free but am reasonable.'