Another vessel that often ‘falls through the cracks’ in terms of ocean liner recognition is the second Mauretania of 1939. Though she was actually slightly larger than her famous, speedy forebear of 1907, this second liner to wear the hallowed name looms nowhere near as large in the public memory as the original namesake.
Built by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead, she entered commercial service in June of 1939, mere weeks before the outbreak of a second global conflict. At a little over 35,000 tons, she was a relatively small ship when stacked up against the likes of the Queen Mary, the Normandie, and the Bremen. Almost from the start, there seemed to be a notion that existed that this second Mauretania was not at the forefront of the transatlantic lists. As things stand, that in itself is something of a shame.
In fact, Mauretania was in many ways a template for the impending, much larger Queen Elizabeth. Her raked bow, curved forward superstructure and pair of stout, stand alone funnels were aesthetic stand out points that would be repeated on the new Cunard liner in 1940. With a speed of around 23 knots, she was never intended to be a headline grabbing record breaker. All the same, I have always felt that this quiet little ground breaker deserves more than the casual glance that historians often throw her.
Several things combined to overshadow her from day one. Mauretania was always in the shadow of the Queen Mary- sometimes quite literally- and the spotlight of world attention was already turning to the new Queen Elizabeth. Her maiden voyage came right on the cusp of the most ghastly global conflict in history. Caught between these points, it is little wonder that the doughty liner often gets forgotten.
And yet, in terms of accommodation, service and facilities, the Mauretania was right up there with the Queens. Her war record, while not as widely trumpeted, was every bit as heroic and important, and her post war restoration to a belated, regular civilian service was every bit as thorough and painstaking.
Converted for full time cruising in 1962 and painted in ‘Caronia green’, the old girl was by then slipping fast. Yet she seemed to disappear with indecent haste; not for her the drawn out eulogies that garlanded the two great Queens in their respective farewell seasons. The Mauretania had started life quietly, and she ended it in the same way. There was something almost desperate and shameful about the entire business.
But for many millions of passengers, and for the thousands of troops that she conveyed safely from peace to war and then home again, the Mauretania looms larger than life; a kind of emotional lightning rod that marks out one of the key times in their lives.
In that respect, this dignified, beautiful ship has left behind a legacy and a legend that is truly imperishable. She was every bit as much a proud, reliable Cunarder as her famous namesake of 1907, and she deserves a little bit more from posterity than just the occasional nod.