The end of the Baltic cruise and the beginning of the D – Day 75 Commemoration

On Tuesday morning we left Queen Victoria and headed home. Poor Maureen was on her way to Winchester County Hospital to have her broken wrist sorted out. The drivers Ian and Gary arrived as we came out of the Terminal building and we were home by 10.00am.

And then the D – Day 75 activities began and that prompted me to think about the movements at sea during WW2 of my father, George E Smith. Like so many of his generation, father never talked about the war. Mother never knew where in the world he was during the war. If his ship came into a UK port he would telephone and sometimes they would be able to meet.

Father first went to sea in 1930 when he was 16. He joined the New Zealand Shipping Company as a cadet.

His apprenticeship was for 4 years. He used to say that he had been round the world 7 times before he was 21. His first ship was the TSS Northumberland. After gaining his Second Mates Certificate he joined the United Baltic Corporation and sailed on their ships SS Baltara and SS Balteako where he stayed until he had gained his Masters Certificate.

At that point he decided that he wanted to move to something bigger. He wrote to 8 Shipping companies. Cunard responded immediately asking him to attend an interview and more importantly sending him a rail ticket to get to the interview!

He joined Cunard on 18 June 1940 and 3 days later on 21 June 1940 he boarded RMS Franconia as 3rd Officer.

I have discovered that Franconia had been requisitioned as a troopship at the outbreak of the war in September 1939. On 16 June 1940, while en route to St Nazaire as part of Operation Ariel – the evacuation of the Second British Expeditionary Force from France – the Franconia was damaged by near misses from German bombs and was escorted back to Liverpool

Father must have joined her when she arrived in Liverpool. Later in the war she took part in landings at Madagascar in May 1942, Operation Torch in North Africa 8-16 November 1942. During his time aboard Franconia, father was promoted to Junior Second Officer and then Senior Second Officer before moving to RMS Ascania as First Officer.

Interestingly in 1945 the Franconia was used as a headquarters ship for Winston Churchill and the British delegation at the Yalta Conference.

RMS Ascania was built in Newcastle and was completed in May 1925. Before the war she was employed on the London/Southampton – Quebec- Montreal route, switching to Halifax and New York in the winter. In August 1939 she was converted into an Armed Merchant Cruiser. After spells on convoy protection she returned to the UK and was converted into a Landing Ship – Infantry.

Father joined her on 7 February 1943 and she took part in the Invasion of Sicily between 10 July and 17 August 1943, the Anzio Landings which began on 22 January 1944 and the landings in the South of France – Operation Dragoon – on 15 August 1944.

On 19 December 1944 Father joined Queen Mary as Senior First Officer moving to the Queen Elizabeth soon after the war had ended.

And to finish this piece and to bring us up to date, Jane’s brother Nigel was carrying out his formal duties in Portsmouth on Wednesday, welcoming the Queen to Hampshire, for the D Day 75th commemoration. He was caught by the cameras as he walked just behind President Trump.

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Kristiansand

Sunday 2 June 2019 and it’s the last port for this voyage. Another new place for us. Yet again the Captain’s weather forecast was pretty accurate. Not very warm and the possibility of some rain.

We knew that access into the city would be easy and shuttle buses were not necessary (although there was a Noddy train which toured the city and some of Cunard’s more elderly customers eagerly boarded it).

I don’t suppose that many of the 87,432 readers of this blog know a great deal about this place. Briefly, the city is the 5th largest in Norway and was founded and named after King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway in 1641. (No one has explained to me why the name of the City starts with a K, but no doubt one of you will tell me). Norway was part of the Kingdom of Denmark then and remained so until 1814.

Kristiansand is a thriving port and commercial centre and is the favourite summer destination for many Norwegians. The city centre is laid out in a US style grid system which made it easy to locate the major sights. We mistimed our arrival at the Cathedral because morning service was underway and the sermon was being delivered.

After the best cup of coffee of the whole trip, we moved across to the Christiansholm Fortress built in a prominent position in 1660 to protect the port. Its 15 foot thick walls were impressive but apparently rarely put to the test. It is said that the Fortress only saw active service once and that was when the British mounted an invasion in 1807. HMS Spencer attacked the port but was repulsed by massive cannon fire from these weapons.

The city is delightful – clean and tidy. The roads and pavements are immaculate and it was a pleasure to visit and wander around the place. The cruise ship pier appears to be fairly new and accommodates just one ship. That is possibly all the city wants. It means they can cope with a thousand or two visitors for a day without causing too much disruption to their city.

Despite it being a Sunday, some shops opened and there were a few small market stalls near the ship and in the centre of the City. But the locals and the Norwegian tourists didn’t appear to be disturbed at the arrival of a ship load of foreigners. And there was a McDonald’s for some of our fellow passengers!

After we had returned to the ship we heard that one of our dinner companions, Maureen from Bishops Waltham, had tripped on a crossing during the day and had broken her wrist. The medical centre on the ship is looking after her, but whether or not we will see her at dinner, we will have to wait and see.

I am pleased to report that Maureen did arrive at dinner and was remarkably cheerful. She will need a fair bit of help to get herself packed and ready for our arrival in Southampton on Tuesday morning, but there appear to be plenty of volunteers.

This is our table in the Britannia.

From left to right clockwise. Malcolm, Me, Diana, James, Maureen, Kim, Jane and Peter. All great fun and excellent table companions.

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Oslo

Jane and I first came here in the summer of 2004. It was our second cruise together. Earlier that year our first cruise was the Maiden Voyage of Queen Mary 2. We had enjoyed that first cruise so much, we decided that we must book on to the QE2 before she was retired from service.

QE2 was important to me. For the benefit of new readers, my late father, Captain George E Smith was the second ever Captain of QE2 and was one of only 3 men who were Masters of both the original Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2).

My first cruise was on QE2. After she was built, Cunard refused to accept her because her turbines were defective. After the problems had been sorted out, but before Cunard accepted the ship, a shakedown cruise was organised. Families of the officers and crew including “dependant” children were invited. I just qualified as a dependant child. £10 a week (less income tax) as a trainee meant that I was still dependant on my Dad.

We had a freebie cruise to the Canaries and back. To help we had to move cabins from time to time and write reports about defects. We were given a sheet each morning telling us where we had to eat and where we had to play. They would put pressure on staff by flooding particular areas of the ship (with people not water). It was a great 10 day trip for us as passengers.

As usual I have digressed. So it was on QE2 that Jane and I first came to Oslo. It was the first port of call on a 14 day voyage to the Norwegian Fjords. If you have not tried one, I can recommend a Fjords cruise.

Since that voyage we have been back to Oslo a number of times and have seen it changing. The dock area has expanded and Oslo has modernised. On our way into the port we passed this house built on a rock!

Inevitably our day started with a transport problem. No adapted shuttle was there to get us into the City. The Tour manager was located and admitted that the vehicle had been stood down after delivering one person! Sounded a bit unlikely, but an adapted taxi soon appeared and we were then in town. Although it rained, it was a Saturday and Oslo people were out enjoying themselves. Kim was given the map (which on reflection was a bit unfair of me) and we set off in search of Cathedrals and Museums!

We found that a music festival was taking place in the main Central Park. We heard a Bagpipe band while we were having coffee. There were dressed as if they were Scots but we didn’t manage to hear them speak so were not sure whether or not they were Norwegian imitators. They had kilts, sporrans and dirks!

There were blues bands and folk groups as well, but the rain inevitably put the dampers on proceedings.

On our way down the fjord, after leaving Oslo, these are just a few of the homes we passed – in the main holiday or weekend homes apparently.

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