Merci Madame – how the Queen was a maritime champion, christening a record 21 ships

Next week, Queen Elizabeth’s funeral will attract the biggest TV audience ever, with around 4 million viewers. Perhaps a little-known side of his life was his incredible maritime record.

As Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen had her first impression of what the christening of a new ship entailed on September 27, 1938. At the age of 12, she and her sister, Princess Margaret, accompanied their mother at the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank. From the rostrum she watched the largest ship in the world at the time – the mighty Cunard queen elizabeth – Was launched.

As the imposing ship slid stern-first down a tilting slipway and plunged into the sea for the first time, the cheers of hundreds of thousands of people lining the banks of the River Clyde undoubtedly impressed the young princess.

From there, she made her own maritime history. Queen Elizabeth II christened 21 ships in her lifetime, more than anyone in the country’s history. She has served on five Cunard liners, two P&O Cruises ships and a mini-armada of Royal Navy craft, not to mention her own royal yacht.

On November 30, 1944, Princess Elizabeth launched her first ship – HMS Vanguard – Britain’s largest and fastest battleship; three years later, for her last public engagement before her marriage to Lieutenant Mountbatten, she returned to Clydebank to launch Cunard’s Caronia. As queen, the ships she launched include some of the most famous in recent maritime history.

The Queen’s Fleet

Caronia, 1947

Built specifically for transatlantic crossings and leisurely cruising in warm weather, Cunard’s Caronia, would be affectionately nicknamed the “Green Goddess” due to her distinctive four shades of green livery, similar to the trams of Liverpool. At the launch on October 30, 1947 in Clydebank, the Princess and her future husband, Lieutenant Mountbatten, were greeted by a crowd of 30,000 spectators in a “wild” fashion according to a local newspaper.

The Princess’s association will remain throughout the luxurious ship’s career; his portrait – depicting the Prince and Princess in a pastoral setting on their honeymoon at Broadlands – took pride of place in the main drawing room. Unfortunately, the fate of caronia was ignominious. Under tow to ship breakers in Taiwan; she sank off Guam.

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