Monday, December 15, 2008

Built for millionaires

Launched on March 17 1931, The Monarch was designed to provide accommodation for 799 passengers in 1st class, 31 in 2nd, and a crew of 456: 1286 people in all. In time it would evolve into something of a chameleon: to the Allies, a troopship; to Italian internees, a dreadful symbol of man’s unspeakable inhumanity to man; to excited British war brides, the way to a new life in Canada.

For more than eight years a cruise between New York and Bermuda on either of the luxurious 'millionaires’ ships' — the Monarch of Bermuda, or her sister ship, The Queen of Bermuda — was the stuff dreams were made of. Splashing in an indoor pool, sunning themselves in deckchairs or parading on deck, the rich and famous were very much in evidence on each and every voyage. These vessels were the floating palaces of glamour in their time. (It was considered to be quite sensational that the Queen even boasted a private bathroom for every cabin!) However, not only celebrities like Clark Gable and Shirley Temple were fortunate enough to find themselves on board. Lower-priced berths were also available, making the cruises so popular among newlyweds that the Queen and the Monarch soon became known as the ‘honeymoon ships’.

The outbreak of war on September 3, 1939 brought a shocking and abrupt halt to languorous, sun-drenched cruises on these and all other vessels. The world would never be the same again; nor would starlit nights aboard the ‘honeymoon ships'. The Queen was on 'war service' by the next day and, very soon, so was the Monarch. She sailed for Bermuda as usual, on September 5, but on the 13th her status changed. Such strict blackout restrictions were immediately enforced that passengers could no longer even strike a match on deck. Gone, too, were the carefree days. Every subsequent voyage, until the war ended, would be tense; fraught with danger. Furthermore, it would be a long time before any ship would again be able to offer the spacious accommodation of the past. Canadians would be among the first to experience this.

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