Hammered together on the Clyde, with the blood, sweat and tears of thousands of hardened shipbuilders and their families embedded in her DNA, she ruled the waves like no other. 

For almost a century, her name – RMS Queen Mary – has been synonymous with Scottish shipbuilding and engineering heritage, the best of British design, technology and art, and a floating symbol of national pride. 

While down the years one of the greatest ships to have been launched on the Clyde endured her fair share of stormy waters: a stop-start birth, a war service peppered with great achievements and awful disasters, first class passenger lists that oozed A-list glamour along and, as time wore on, a sad demise that left her future shrouded in doubt. 

Amid it all, the RMS Queen Mary in her distinctive Cunard colours, continued to turn heads and attract headlines; a world-famous ship that, as a new book dedicated to telling her story reveals, is a far from ready to relinquish her crown. 

For having in recent years been a little down on her luck, left in her Long Beach, California, berth to wither and fade, it now appears that the famous 1930s liner’s fortunes are once again on the ‘up’. 

According to author David Ellery, who has poured years into researching every aspect of the John Brown built liner for his new book, RMS Queen Mary: the World’s Favourite Liner, hopes are high that the pride of the Clyde may soon be back to as close as possible to her shipshape best. 

There are even suggestions that she might have a new future as a United States national monument, ranking alongside the likes of New York’s Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the Liberty Bell, and protecting her for generations to come. 

That would be a remarkable crowning glory for a ship that began its journey almost a century ago and which would go on to seal the Clyde’s reputation as the shipbuilding centre of the world

The Herald:

She was internationally famous almost from her 1926 conception, when Cunard Steamship Company confirmed plans for two prestigious vessels – RMS Queen Mary and sister ship RMS Queen Elizabeth. 

Together, they would provide a two-way luxury liner service linking Britain and the US, and challenge the German, Italian and French superliner rivals. 

“Ships were getting bigger and more powerful,” David says. “And there was this idea of two huge liners replacing the three smaller Cunard vessels on the North Atlantic route. 

“They could have built her elsewhere, and the Clyde presented some restrictions in terms of getting a huge ship like the Queen Mary out once built,” he adds. 

“But there was a natural gravitation towards utilising a tried and tested method of building a ship using a yard able to deliver. 

“Plus, in terms of world shipping, the Clyde dominated in many ways.” 

READ MORE: How the giants of the Clyde were brought down to earth

The design process was remarkable, carried out long before computer technology, it involved around 8,000 experiments using 22 1/60th scale models in a 400ft by 20ft water tank that simulated the very worst of Atlantic storms and gale-force winds. 

Known in the yard as ‘job 534’, her huge frame already towering over the riverside landscape, when economic disaster struck. 

“Work was quite rapid but then came the Wall St. crash and the Great Depression,” adds David.  “Cunard ran out of money. 

“Building a new ship wasn’t the priority and she remained on stocks more than half finished. From being just a few months away from completion, she spent 27 months gathering dust.” 

The impact on surrounding areas was huge. 

The Herald:

Neighbouring shipyard, William Beardmore, had just closed permanently, while an estimated 3,800 men employed directly in the construction of the Queen Mary along with up to 10,000 contractors and subcontractors across a range of industries were thrown out of work. 

The sad sight of her unfinished hull seemed to symbolise the national mood. As months rolled by, the hull accumulated more than 130 tons of rust, and become nothing more than a place for birds to build their nest. 

It took a desperate plea for action from the local MP, David Kirkwood, to spark a government cash injection that would see workers eventually piped back to work in April 1934 - a celebration captured on cinema newsreels and newspaper headlines. 

“The Stock Market immediately went up, morale was lifted and the ship became a beacon of hope for the nation,” says David. “Within months she was completed. 

“She was a catalyst for the whole of Britain being regenerated, a morale boost.” 

She was launched on 26 September 1934 by Queen Mary, but travelled only to the riverbank yard opposite the Titan Crane where thousands more workers fitted her with the very latest technology, stunning Art Deco interiors and a breath-taking collection of fine contemporary British art. 

Her most unique feature, however, was the impressive technology. “They used plastic and Formica which was pioneering at the time. There was a fantastic telephone system,” he adds. 

“The kitchen had electric dishwasher and electric potato peelers; fitted at a time when Britain was just getting its National Grid. It was state of the art. 

“There were other ships, such as the French ship Normandie, that were more ‘sparkly’ and grander, but people preferred the Queen Mary.” 

Plus, she was fast. 

The Herald:

In August 1936, she captured the Blue Riband from Normandie and went on to hold the record time for crossing the Atlantic until 1952. 

In between was a gritty period of war service and another record: In July 1943, she carried a total of 16,683 passengers and crew, the most passengers ever transported on one vessel. 

Hardly glamorous, some had to sleep outside on the deck and others crammed in makeshift bunks constructed in the ship’s empty swimming pools, with no air conditioning and miserable conditions. 

“The fact she survived the war at all was very much down to her power,” adds David. “There was a huge bounty of $250,000 for the u-boat captain who could sink her. But she was able to power across the Atlantic.” 

READ MORE: Historic Scottish yard sees first shipbuilding activity since 1856

There was, however, tragedy when, loaded with hundreds of American soldiers and just off the north coast of Northern Ireland, she inadvertently sliced through her cruiser escort, with a loss of 239 lives. 

Refitted after the war, she continued her day job ferrying the rich and famous along with hundreds of ‘ordinary’ third class passengers across the Atlantic. 

But soon air travel would steal away her passengers. 

She left Southampton in October 1967 on a one-way journey that ended in Long Beach in California. She remains there, engines long since removed, as a tourist attraction. 

But recent years has seen a lack of maintenance: one study suggested it would take $289m to ensure she did not crumble. 

“There has been a great deal of neglect for a number of years,” says David. “But the upshot of all of this is quite positive.” 

Having previously been leased to an outside business, Long Beach City Council has now resumed control and are considering options which it’s hoped can secure her future. 

One is to preserve her in place, with maintenance that should secure her for a further 25 years. 

Another would see a $500m investment in a watertight enclosure or dry-dock. 

The Herald:

Perhaps the most encouraging is the suggestion she become a US national monument, with protection for as long as possible. 

“I am optimistic,” says David. “There is a sense of ownership of RMS Queen Mary that spans Glasgow, Southampton, New York and Long Beach, which alone makes her important. 

“She is the very last of her kind: nowhere else can you experience walking on decks where the rich and famous walked feet away from migrants on their way to a new life. 

“There is no collection of Art Deco influenced interiors like it. And there is the social history and the lives touched by her. 

“She is a world treasure.” 

RMS Queen Mary: The World’s Favourite Liner by David Ellery is published by Pen and Sword books. Pen and Sword Books: RMS Queen Mary - Hardback (pen-and-sword.co.uk)