This flambe burner and silver dish (which are in dire need of a polishing) was used in the First Class Dining Room of Queen Mary. Dishes like cherry jubilee and certain spiced meats were carted to the various passenger tables and lit into flames. It was quite thrilling to those wealthy enough to have been exposed to it over the years. But for Jim and Jess Bennett, First Class was an unnerving experience. Jim was a World II GI who married his British bride Jess and wired all of his savings so that the newlywed Bennetts could experience the grandeur of Queen Mary first hand. “Memories of a lifetime” Jim repeated to an anxious Jess a few days before their encounter with the extraterrestrial mother and children. The following excerpt depicts Jess’s reaction when a waiter brought the flambe burner and dish to her table:
“The Dining Room was as soaring and majestic as any cathedral I had seen in Europe and we were both embarrassed to be so under-dressed. Good God, we were out of place with those tuxedos and gowns all around us. I wore my uniform which had some formality but poor Jess had only a yellow chiffon dress she’d bought for Easter services a few years before. ‘Memories of a lifetime’, I kept whispering to her. When a waiter came to our table and began to flambe a dish, all diners turned excitedly toward us. Jess was mortified. When the flames burst upward, she screamed and brought a ripple of laughter. Our unease must have been glaringly obvious because an older couple watched us from a nearby table for some time, smiling at us and we were certainly the topic of their conversation. Before dessert, they came over and introduced themselves as Frank and Emily Schofield from upstate New York and we were placed under their wing for the rest of the voyage.”
During World War II, Queen Mary was requisitioned by the British government to serve as a troop transport. Her luxurious interiors were stripped and placed in storage in New York and Sydney, Australia and painted entirely in grey. Gone was the famous black and white hull with orange-red stacks. Since she was the fastest ship in the world, she could easily outrun any torpedo and deliver American soldiers to the European theater. She transported troops in excess of 10,000 to 16,000 on single voyages from New York to Gourock, Scotland. Hitler was infuriated. He placed a contract out on the liner that any submarine captain who sank her would receive half a million dollars and the prestigious Iron Cross. She sailed the Atlantic alone with lights out in a zigzag course to prevent a “wolf pack” of Nazi subs placing coordinates on her. Because of her speed, she was only escorted in and out of ports with battle cruisers at her bow.
The only disaster the superliner ever encountered in her career was in October of 1943 when she ran over a cruiser named Curacoa. To this day, no one knows which ship missed which zigzag but the Queen’s giant bow sliced through her escort when the armour-plated battle cruiser crossed directly in front of her. The severed sections of the cruiser sank alongside Port and Starboard and nearly 400 men lost their lives. The British Admiralty had ordered that the liner not stop for any reason lest she be a sitting target for Nazi subs and horrified soliders on the liner hurled life vests overboard for the drowning sailors. While the impact was the end of the world for Curacoa’s crew, the collision felt little more than running over a log on the liner. She suffered only a bent bow.
This life vest was still aboard the liner when she retired to Long Beach, California in 1967. As can be seen by the photos above, it is in remarkable condition.
Telephones like the one pictured above from my collection were available in First Class staterooms aboard Queen Mary. In the center of the face is a note that reads “You Can Call Telephone To Anywhere In The World Whilst At Sea”. In our modern world, telephoning to any part of the world is a given but in 1936, it was a luxury of high technology, especially aboard ship in the middle of the North Atlantic. The actress Marion Davies is seen in the other picture using the phone enroute.
The chessboard pictured above was purchased approximately 5 years ago from a dealer in England. As I recall, it cost $450.00 and since I had only seen one other in all the years I have collected Queen Mary memorabilia, I snatched it up. This past week, I was contacted by another dealer in California with an example identical to this one who asked $2,500.00. He is a friend who graciously gives me first dibs on Queen Mary pieces he comes across and when I explained that I already had one but thanked him, he was uncertain as whether to list it on Ebay or contact other collectors first. He called this morning and excitedly told me he had sold it to a collector who offered $3,000.00 not to list it on Ebay. I have long been advised that my Queen Mary collection was an investment that would only increase in value as the years went by. Indeed, judging by the transaction of the chessboard, I may need to have my collection appraised and buy an insurance policy!
The chessboard has individually cut squares of walnut and other woods I am not familiar with and stained in light oak and dark mahogany. It is quite heavy to prevent movement in heavy seas and as far as I know, was used exclusively on Queen Mary in the First Class Lounge.
The Drawing Room Clock in the Queen Mary adorned the fireplace mantel. It can be seen in the above photo just above and behind Winston Churchill’s head to the right. The Queen Mary was his favorite ship and he traversed the Atlantic exclusively aboard her during World War II as well as countless times during peace. Like all clocks aboard the liner from the public rooms to the private staterooms, they were wired directly to the ship’s master clock on the bridge which was advanced or reversed depending upon the time zone the Queen was currently in. Built of solid onyx and jade crystal, it’s dial face illuminates in light green at night and is considered a masterpiece of Art Deco design.
This Benson’s candy tin was sold aboard a Queen Mary gift shop probably in the 1940s. I acquired this example in the late 1970s when I was about 10 years old; my first piece of memorabilia ever. It was bought from a dealer who sent lists through the USPS in those days before the internet. I used my meager savings and gave cash to my mother who in turn wrote a check to the dealer. I was very excited to receive it and assumed it was rare. But along came Ebay which offers several examples every single day. There must have been thousands upon thousands sold judging by the frequency with which they show up on Ebay. And in 1993, an identical tin made an appearance in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”. When Morgan Freeman’s character is paroled, he finds the tree in a field which Tim Robbin’s escaped character had instructed him to and pulls the tin up from beneath stones and earth. Inside are directions and cash. The fact that this particular tin was used indicates again that it was once very popular and plentiful. Though it is decidedly not a rare piece, it is cherished because it was my first collectible from the legendary Queen Mary.