In the 1930s, the Cunard liner Queen Mary was a powerful symbol of Britain’s international prestige. When work began in December 1930 she was intended to be the greatest ship afloat. But as the economy collapsed in the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the money ran out and all work stopped.
For over two years the rusting skeleton of the abandoned ship dominated the Glasgow skyline. The French, however, continued to work on their own symbol of national pride, the Normandie, a liner intended to rival the Queen Mary. When work restarted in Glasgow, it was heralded as a turning point - the start of Britain’s slow economic recovery. The ship was launched in September 1934 by Queen Mary herself, accompanied by King George V. She was then fitted out as a luxury liner, her ornate interior filled with specially commissioned art works, many in the latest Art Deco style. Dominating the first class dining room was Max Gill’s gigantic map of the North Atlantic.
Her maiden voyage was in May 1936 – a full year after the Normandie, whose interior was even more lavish. The two ships then became arch rivals, competing for the ‘Blue Riband’, a title awarded to the liner making the fastest Atlantic crossing to New York. The record changed hands several times before World War Two abruptly ended the contest.
During the War the Normandie was impounded in New York harbour and eventually destroyed by fire. But the Queen Mary became a troopship and went back into passenger service when the War ended. She was finally withdrawn in 1967 and is now preserved as a floating hotel at Long Beach, California, where Max Gill’s map can still be seen.