The Mauretania. Her very name is the stuff of legend. The most successful speed champion that the Atlantic- and indeed the travelling world- has ever seen. For twenty-two consecutive years, she held the Blue Ribband of the Atlantic, the speed record awarded for the fastest crossing of that ocean. Franklin Roosevelt famously said that ‘if ever a ship had a soul, it was surely her.’
FDR was right. Many liners have become famous, but only a select few have become truly immortal. Normandie. Titanic. Norway. Queen Mary. Ile De France. QE2. And Mauretania.
But she was far more than just a speed queen. Like her sister ship, the ill fated, Clyde built Lusitania, the ‘Maurey’ was the absolute epitome of style, grace and elegance when she first appeared. The two sisters were the first real ‘floating palaces’; their construction triggered the greatest building race in maritime history up until that date. Each in turn swept the board on the Atlantic crossing. In the seven years leading up to the war, ‘Maurey’ and ‘Lusy’ played a kind of maritime ping-pong with the speed record, beating each other now and again by a fraction of a knot.
Mauretania served with distinction in the Great War, working both as a troopship and then as a hospital ship. On one occasion, she narrowly avoided the fate of the Lusitania when she smartly dodged a torpedo. In her role as a trooper, she shaved several months from the end of that conflict, indirectly helping to literally save many thousands of lives in the process.
When the Mauretania first appeared, she was the largest ship of any kind in the world. She remained so until 1911, when the Olympic made her debut. The Olympic was the twin sister of the soon to come- and go- Titanic.
The Mauretania ran as reliably as a Swiss watch for the better part of three decades. Her proud, four stack silhouette was known and admired the world over. She carried hundreds of thousands of happy passengers on Atlantic crossings, and later on cruises as well. To many, she remains the very image of the ocean liner to this day.
Her timekeeping on the 1920’s Atlantic was so exemplary that she was known as ‘The Rostron Express’ after her skipper, Arthur Rostron. A decade earlier, that same Arthur Rostron had taken another Tyne built liner, the Carpathia, through freezing, ice strewn waters to rescue the shivering souls huddled in the pathetic handful of lifeboats that were all that was left of the Titanic.
So, how do we commemorate this legend today? The answer is that we don’t. Not ONE documentary has ever been made and devoted solely to her that I can recall. On Tyneside, where she was built, her name has been allowed to fade from memory. And, while Belfast profits mightily from it’s sensational Titanic Quarter, the North East of England seems unwilling, or even just plain uninterested, in capitalising on the reputation of the most fondly remembered of all the great, graceful, four funnelled liners.
One of the great benefits of the Belfast scheme was to bring the Titanic ‘home’ to the town and people that created her. Surely now it is time for Tyneside to do the same, and honour the memory of the legendary ‘Geordie Flyer’.
The Mauretania was the landmark achievement of a region noted for its prowess in heavy industry. That region mourns the loss of those industries; the steel, the shipbuilding and, of course, the coal mines. But the Mauretania?
There’s something pitiful, in fact downright indecent, in the way that she has been allowed to just fade away like so much rusty scrap. The memories of the men that wrought her to life, and the men that sailed and served aboard her, deserve nothing less than a righting of this huge, historical omission.
And the faithful, proud lady of the seas herself, the Mauretania- she deserves honour, recognition, and rehabilitation. Tyneside, get your thinking caps on. You’ve kept the lady waiting long enough. It’s time we brought the Mauretania home.
In the words of another famous captain of another legendary vessel- ‘make it so’…….