California Attractions


WWII Heroes Unite: The Queen Mary & Winston Churchill

Photos & Story By Chris MacDonald

"…The Queen Mary challenged the fury of Hitlerism…to defend the liberties of civilization." --Winston Churchill

The Queen Mary's historic role as "The Gray Ghost," transporting more than 810,000 troops across the Atlantic for allied battles in World War II, was unbelievable. On one trip alone (July 1943), she transported 16,683 military—the largest number of people ever to voyage on one vessel in the World!

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sailed on the Queen 10 times, including during the War. He secretly traveled with his War Cabinet and other top officials, planning the invasion of Normandy. In the dark, Churchill, using the name, "Col. Warden," quietly boarded the vessel with his staff.

A fascinating, permanent Churchill Exhibit recently opened, explaining this mysterious chapter in the ship's astonishing life. It features actual artifacts, including furniture. There also are exact reproductions of Churchill War Rooms, Cabinet Rooms, Mapping areas, photographs and even videos (you can sit and watch) in the Queen's E Deck stern. Many of these reproductions are from the 2017 Universal Pictures/Focus Features' Movie, "The Darkest Hour." They really provide the visitor with the real feel of returning to the dangerous days of WWII.

One of the most interesting things is how the Queen disguised herself to avoid being sunk by German, Japanese and Italian submarines, whose captains were offered a $250,000 reward to sink the huge troop carrier. Great pains were taken to keep her afloat.

She was painted gray, had her name blocked out, fitted with an underwater sound detection system and a special girdle to neutralize magnetic mines. Her 2,000 portholes and windows were blacked out, exterior lights turned off and the helmsman ordered to steer a zigzag course to make the ship as difficult a target as possible. She also never followed the same route twice.

The Queen could cross the Atlantic in five days, going about 30mph. She made 72 wartime-related voyages between 1940-1946. (My friend, the late Art Leavitt, an Army soldier from Garden Grove, came back on the crowded troopship after serving in Europe. In 1959, another friend, dancer Irene Sellers of England, traveled on the same vessel to America to tour with the Ice Capades.)

The Queen carried more than 2.2 million passengers in peacetime, including notable celebs Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor and Fred Astaire. The incredible entertainment, war and ship history have been happily and expertly told with passion for 37 years by Queen Mary Commodore Everette Hoard, who, along with his father, Ralph, a Navy veteran, have loved the ship their entire lives.

In 1967, it made its final voyage to America as the Queen became a dominant, permanent attraction in Long Beach. Yet, the incredible survivor of the Great Depression and WWII, may have its finest hours ahead, with the new restoration and vision for the ship and surrounding 65 acres. Now managed by Urban Commons, an exciting, new revival is taking place, including new events and new venues destined to propel this one-of-a-kind, historic World icon into an entertainment, lodging and dining destination for locals and tourists. Long live the Queen! 

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