A very strange chain of events

Last month Stewart Wilson rang me. He doesn’t need to announce himself when he rings. I know instantly who it is. He’s a true Scot. Stewart and his wife Elizabeth feature in this blog regularly. Stewart was, before retiring, Rector of Banchory Academy. He is a Cunard philatelist extraordinaire (see the entry on 11 November 2016).

He had been rummaging about in his local bookshop in Banchory that day and had found a secondhand book entitled ‘Samuel Cunard and the North Atlantic’. Later that evening he started to flip through the pages and found that the book was dedicated to Captain George Smith, my father, and that at the back of the book was a resume of my father’s career with Cunard.

I was amazed because I didn’t recall seeing the book at home, nor did I recall hearing about it before. I asked Stewart who the author was and he replied TWE Roche. I knew instantly who he was.

My father had joined Cunard in 1940 and served on the old Franconia, the Ascania and the Queen Mary during the war. I was born at the end of the war and when the two Queens had been converted back from troopships to passenger liners, father was assigned to the Queens. They, of course, sailed back and forth across the Atlantic on a 2 week cycle – 5 days each way with 2 days to turn around in New York and Southampton. My mother, sister Liz and I were, at that time, living in Grimsby, where both my parents were born and bred.

My parents made the decision to move to Southampton so that father could see us all for a couple of days every fortnight. Initially they rented 79 Bassett Green Road for a year from another Cunard deck officer and then bought 79 Ethelburt Avenue, close by. 79 recurs in our family. An aunt and uncle lived at 79 Gloucester Avenue in Grimsby and Jane and I bought 79 Shanklin Road as our first home together in Southampton.

As usual I have digressed. I guess that we moved to 79 Ethelburt Avenue when I was 2 or 3. The house was set in a square of about 20 houses around a grassed area and in one of the houses lived the Roche family. TWE Roche was a senior immigration officer at Southampton Docks.

Because of his initials he was known to everyone as Twee. But when Stewart Wilson said that Twee was the author of this book on Samuel Cunard I was completely thrown. Twee was an immigration officer. Why would he, in the late sixties, have written a book dedicated to my father?

I think the two families only lived near to each other for a few years. Possibly 3 or 4 years. I remembered that the Roches moved to Dorney Reach and that we went to their home there a few times. I remembered that I had my first ride on a horse in a field near their home. The horse saw a field of turnips ahead of him. His ears went back and he bolted at a full gallop. I decided that my best option was to jump off. I managed to get my feet out of the stirrups and leapt clear. I couldn’t remember much more about the Roche family, but my sister Liz could.

The Roche family moved away from Southampton because Twee was promoted to a Senior position at Heathrow. Twee’s wife Yetta was a German lady and they had 3 daughters, one of whom – Margaret – was at Homerton College, Cambridge with my sister Liz. The second daughter was Delphine who was my age and there was a younger sister, also an Elizabeth.

My sister Liz also remembered that Delphine had achieved fame as a costume designer in the film and TV industry. Inevitably I had to find out a little more about Delphine – after all, she was probably my first girlfriend!

Google gave me a variety of facts about Delphine. There were numerous accolades for TV and film costume design and a BAFTA nomination. Then I found a reference to a book that Delphine had written. It was apparently a memoir of her early life. Possibly the Smiths were mentioned!

So a few pounds were invested in Amazon in the hope that I could find out how, in the late sixties, there was still a connection between my father and TWE Roche. Had they remained in contact?

The book took some time to arrive. Delphine Roche has become Delphine Roche-Gordon and the back cover says that she has had 3 husbands and 3 children.

The book “A flash of pink” is lovely and recounts numerous incidents and scenarios in Delphine’s early life. It is beautifully written. The front cover is of her as a 4 year old and as I remember her.

I noticed that one of the Chapters is entitled “Sandbanks”. My sister had reminded me that we had had at least one holiday with the Roche’s in a rented house at Sandbanks, by Poole Harbour. I know exactly where that house is in Shore Road and have been past it many times over the years. While at school I sailed in Poole Harbour every day of each summer term. Additionally Jane’s sister Sarah lives nearby and when our children were small we spent many sunny days in Poole Harbour and at Shell Bay.

Now that I am reminded of it, I recall that one day, holidaying with the Roches, it was pouring with rain. Despite that, the fathers decided to take all of us children for a swim. The sea was no more than 100 yards away. I forgot to take my swimming aid with me to the beach (a blown up ring I think) so swam for the first time unaided.

I discover on Page 93 of her book that Delphine refers to a meeting with the Smith family in Southampton and she adds “I think I’ll marry Richard. He helps me make sandcastles”. It seems that as she grew up she changed her preference to men named David!

It is well known that if I suffer bad service or have a complaint about a product, I find the email address of the CEO and email him. It works. So I thought it would be easy to find Delphine’s email address, but it has not been. Maybe we will make contact one day. Perhaps further googling is needed or possibly one of the Roches will see this.

We return to sea towards the end of May on Queen Elizabeth. The Greek islands. An excellent itinerary and we are looking forward to it. Do sign up to email reminders to keep in touch.



I’m now recognised for my blogging expertise. I wanted my readers to be the first to know that.

A retired Captain (of industry rather than of the sea), Nigel Freer, wanted to set a up a blog. I respect his opinions (well I do sometimes) and if he wanted my help I must be an expert. (The truth is that I didn’t set up this blog. Sam Scrutton did, but Nigel doesn’t need to know that).

I did have the WordPress App and in reality that’s all I needed.

Nigel and his lovely wife Linda are off to New Orleans in early May for a Blues tour. They will drive north to Chicago, fly to Seattle and then drive to LA.

Nigel and Linda realised that a blog would be a great way to keep a record of the trip and enable them to communicate their whereabouts and their exploits to their massive family.

This is most of them. The blog is at http://www.freerstravels.com I am positive it will be good and worth signing up for email reminders.

Have a great trip Mr and Mrs Freer.


All quiet on the Western Front

That’s because of the non stop activity after we had been to see the QE2. No time to update the blog but I had 2 sessions at Barasti watching Southampton Football Club continue its downward spiral.

I was desperate for them to win one of their games because I knew that a team photo would have been taken and shown on social media with the appendage #win . But it didn’t happen. Shame because I would have loved to have been part of a winning Saints Dubai grouping like this one.

But it didn’t happen!

Jane and I had some relaxing days in the sun and with the Watson/Smith cats

And on Christmas Day we were invited to Christmas lunch at Nick (Gretchen’s brother) and his wife Hilary’s home at Arabian Ranches. MJ and Bruce were there and Hilary’s parents Bob and Shirley Smith (Yes more Smiths) from NZ were also there. So there were 9 Kiwis and 3 Brits.

In fairness they were very nice to us! Bob was telling me that years ago he and Shirley left their cattle farm on North Island in the hands of their manager and brought their young children to Europe. They bought a Winebego and in their travels in the U.K. they met a Cunard Chief Engineer called John Hill, who had served on the old Queen Mary. Could he have known my Dad or had they sailed together? If they had that would have been an amazing coincidence.

I have looked up John Hill and find that someone of that name is a committee member of the RMS Queen Mary Association which meets regularly in Southampton. I have a chum John Bull who is also a member of that association so I should be able to find out more later this month.

Christmas lunch/dinner was fabulous. Nick had brought in caterers who he uses regularly. The turkey and ham were being browned on the barbecue. The beef was massive.

There were 10 adults and enough meat to feed 30. We had a wonderful meal with marvellous wines and the lady sommelier kept filling the glasses.

Christmas Day in the sunshine was not something we had experienced before, but we had a great day and the Watsons and the Kiwi Smiths looked after the English Smiths very well.

Christmas presents under the tree and handed out by a very young Santa followed the format we adopt back in the UK.

It was a great day. This was one of my presents! MJ and Bruce had just returned from a 3 week holiday in India.

Jane and I stayed at Le Meridien on Jumeira Beach. It was perfect and we spent most of our days there or at Mike and Gretchen’s house at the Springs, which overlooked a lake. It is a perfect place for them to live.

In the Mall of the Emirates there was plenty of evidence that some people were celebrating Christmas. A magnificent Christmas tree which we found.

That’s all for now. We are back on QE with Kim on the 24 May and our first Port is Palma, Mallorca. Luckily the senior Holts and Sam and Katie, Zoey and Hayden will be there to entertain us! We look forward to it.


You thought this was a cruise blog?

On the journey from the airport Mike asked if there were any places we wanted to visit during our stay. In the past we had been to the top of the World’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa; we had had tea in the 6 star Hotel the Burj al Arab. We had been to the souks and the ski slope. We had shopped in the vast Malls.

But of course it was the QE2 that I wanted to see. Jane and I had travelled to Dubai on QE2’s final voyage at the end of 2008 after QE2 had been sold to Dubai for $50million. In 2012 when we were on the new Queen Elizabeth’s World voyage we had a day in Dubai and I tried to get aboard QE2. I walked up the gangway, but was barred by security. I told them that my Dad had once been Captain, but that didn’t work and I was marched off!

So on Saturday Mike drove us to Port Rashid. I knew that after 9 years of inactivity the much loved QE2 had been moved within the port. There were reports that the lifeboats and tenders had been removed. Other reports on QE2 websites hinted at conversion work on the interior, with rumours that at last the ship was to be turned into a hotel with various restaurants.

It was very foggy, but we could see the ship near to the road.

I thought that might be the best we could do, but eventually Mike found a way in and soon we were close to what appeared to be a new terminal building, with QE2 behind it. I took some photos from a distance, but as I got closer the security people pointed at a ‘No cameras’ sign.

There were teams of workmen being bussed in and out and plenty of activity.

We then left the scene and while looking for an exit came across the ‘missing’ lifeboats and tenders. It seems that they are being assembled as some sort of exhibit.

Reports on Christmas in Dubai to follow shortly!


Dubai for Christmas!

We flew to Dubai on Thursday 21 December 2017 to join Mike and Gretchen for our first Christmas in a warm climate. Our first non conventional Christmas. We did have one Christmas out of the UK in 2000 when Mike was in his gap year working for Mark Warner in Val d’Isere.

All the Smiths and Holts were there, but the star of the group was Granny Jean, then in her eighties. She had skied as a young lady in the days when you climbed the mountain in the morning, carrying your skis over your shoulder. After struggling to the top, you had just the one run down to the village. Then to the tea dance! There were no ski lifts in those days.

But I digress.

Andy was the driver. A great friend of Brian Kelly. Andy has a big Merc and it was easy to pour Jane into the front seat. Earlier, when I told Andy that I needed his registration number for Virgin check in, he knew it meant we were favoured Virgins. Turn left to Upper Class is the cry. So as we approached Heathrow’s Terminal 3 we watched carefully for that left turn and the ramp which took us straight to check in. Gretchen had done her stuff. We were expected and our luggage was whisked away within minutes.

Assistance arrived rapidly to take us to the Upper Class lounge where we were fed and wined while we waited for boarding. The upgrade must have been as a result of our celebrity. No. It was all down to Gretchen’s influence. We were delighted and when it came to boarding we were on first and seated before the rush.

After 6 hours and some snoozing we were above some of the Dubai sights – the Burj al Arab and the nearby sky scrapers. Soon after landing the assistance personnel did a great job getting Jane from her seat and into the wheel chair and whisking us through immigration. And there was Mike waiting for us.

His smart Audi Quattro awaited us and we were soon on our way to the Le Meridien Hotel on Jumeira Beach.


They think it’s all over

Well it is now.

We arrived in Southampton in the dark on Monday morning. The Red Funnel ferry was getting ready. Lorries were in position to start revictualling QE.It was dull and drizzly but the activity around the ship was startling. The luggage was being taken ashore. During the final evening luggage is collected from outside cabins between 5 and 10pm and stored down below. Literally thousands of cases.

Once the ship is tied up, swarms of fork lift trucks buzz about the dock side taking cages full of cases from the ship to the ground floor of the terminal building. There a crew sort them into various colour groupings, so that when passengers come ashore they can find their cases according to the colour allotted to them. Massive numbers of people are involved in the process on the ship and ashore.

By the time we got ashore it was very easy to find the suitcases, and Gary with the taxi and Ian in the Vauxhall arrived simultaneously to whisk us home. Until the next time!


Another QE2 day

Commodore Ron started the day with a presentation from his scrapbook of cuttings recalling incidents in the career of Queen Elizabeth 2, which is the way in which he always refers to that ship – rarely does he say QE2.

He was followed in a Q&A session by the present Master of the Queen Elizabeth, Captain Aseem Hashmi. He was brilliant.

I had lost track of the days. Today was a Saturday and that means Premier League football on TV on the ship subject to the satellite working satisfactorily. It did and one of the games shown live was the Saints against Man United. Although they lost 0-1 the Saints played very well and were the better side in the second half. Sadly they don’t have the fire power at present.

It was the last formal night on this voyage. A wonderful menu and exceptional wine. And the evenings show featured the ships singers and dancers, so of course we were near the front.
This is our table. Maureen from Bishops Waltham is at the front left and then clockwise it is Gordon and his wife Barbara from York, Diana from Henley, Kim, Jane and me. And our waiters and sommelier.
And this was the Captains table on Wednesday


On our way home

 Sam Scrutton has resolved the error message that some of you had reported receiving when attempting to go back into my blog archive or when you tried to make comments on the blog entries. I should have known it was a matter of resetting the .htaccess! The man is a genius and as a reward I am sending him and his bride to Hawaii tomorrow for their honeymoon!

We have just left Gibraltar. The weather has been glorious all day and we are now heading West before “turning right” for home to quote the Captain. .
Close by us while berthed in Gibraltar were 2 superyachts, the Clio,
which seems to be a very small cruise ship and ‘Yacht A’ 
which has apparently been impounded by the authorities following a dispute between the boat yard and the Russian billionaire who commissioned it. A small dispute over a final payment of about €5million, it seems, but my information may be out of date.

Yesterday my Godmother Ethel Child was 100 years old. She was my mother Wyn’s best friend and was the most remarkable god mother. Throughout my life she sent me a calendar every Christmas – usually a Lincolnshire calendar. She lived for as long as I can remember in Grimoldby, near Louth. As we were away I couldn’t make it to the party yesterday but her daughter Cherry tells me it went well. It was probably not as lively as the party here. 

We had the comedian John Evans on first – a brilliant comic and later we had the Crew Talent Show. Some amazing singers and dancers from amongst the crew, followed by some well known corny old Cunard sketches. The theatre was packed.

Today the departure from Gib was billed as the Great BRITISH Sailaway. We left at about 1400 and bearing in mind that most of the guests are older than me, it was pretty hectic. Drinking, singing and Union Jack waving under hot sun. I was hoping to see a Spanish gunboat, but there were none to be seen.


QE2 Day – I name this ship – 50 years ago today

So the big day has arrived!

We have seen a number of presentations today including the Pathe News film of the launch of QE2 – twice. It’s very moving – although the ship didn’t move immediately – Her Majesty the Queen spoke the traditional words (although the name was a secret) ” I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. God bless her and all who sail in her”. She pressed the button, the bottle hit the bow and for a moment nothing. The camera turned to the Queen again and to the shipyard MD alongside who looked somewhat concerned. The ship seemed to be stuck, but after a few more seconds, to much relief, she started to glide down the slipway and into the Clyde.

The historian/author Chris Frame spoke first leading us through the QE2’s nearly 40 year career as the most iconic ocean liner of all time. The launch, the faulty turbines, the bomb threat, the engine conversion, the Falklands, and the final voyage to Dubai (we were there!)

There followed a Q&A session with Commodore Warwick, Captain Ian Macnaught, Maureen Ryan and the present Captain Aseem Hashmi on stage, answering questions from the audience. It was very entertaining, but not too many secrets were revealed.

 On arriving back on the ship from Tuscany, there was an invitation from Captain Hasmi to sit at the Captains table for dinner on QE2 Day, Wednesday 20 September. There was a World Club cocktail party beforehand. Captain George Smith still exercises some influence! And Derek and Helen Barnes. They know what I mean!The Captain had arranged for Jane to sit on his right. She is always seated next to the Captain whenever we have such an invitation. It was a fun evening with friends Ron and Kim Warwick, Pam and Peggy Zirkle, and Maureen Ryan also guests of the Captain.

Captain Hashmi is a lovely man and a brilliant communicator. He trained first as an airline pilot with British Airways, on their 737 fleet but soon after completing his training, he and hundreds of others were grounded because of the economic downturn in the aviation industry. He decided to alter course to the booming maritime sector, switching from air to sea. He joined Cunard as a Deck Officer Cadet and rose through the ranks, his first promotion to Captain being in March 2013.

1 Comment

Tuesday 19 September 2017

We have all adapted back to ship life amazingly quickly. It was as if we had never been away. Although we had missed a number of ports, when we boarded the ship again, we were told that there had been a hailstorm while the ship was in Split and that when the ship was in Dubrovnik, the City was incredibly busy as it was a Saturday. So we don’t feel so bad about missing ports!

This morning there were three presentations in the theatre. 

Chris Frame, the young Cunard historian and author, seems to get the 10.00am slot. Today he talked about the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in the Thirties through to the Sixties. It was great for me because my father sailed on both those ships during the war and during my early years. The fact that he was assigned to those ships was the main reason for my parents move to Southampton when I was a year old. 

My fathers first command of one of the Queens was in 1966, when he briefly became Captain of the Queen Elizabeth. He was the last but one Captain of that ship. That was just before it was sold and he was assigned to the QE2.

Chris is a brilliant speaker and knows his subject better than anyone I know. Not only did he deal with the original Queens, but he also covered the rest of the Cunard fleet.

He was followed by Commodore Ron Warwick who took us through his career at sea from HMS Conway as a 16 year old through cargo vessels to Cunard and eventually to command of QE2. Of course he became the first Master of Queen Mary 2 and was appointed Commodore. His talk was brilliant and brought back many memories for me because his father and my father were the first team of Captains appointed to Queen Elizabeth 2.
Number 3 was Maureen Ryan, who worked for Cunard for most of her working life. She spoke about her time on QE2 and most of it was hilarious. In the early part of her presentation she showed a photo of a group and on the right of the picture was my father. I grabbed my camera and took some pictures while she was describing who was in it. They are not very clear. I saw her later and she promised to email a decent version to me.

A number of new photos have arrived of the wedding and the weekend in Italy.