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SCRIBBLINGS – MARCH 2022 by Bill Miller


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                                                    From Bill Miller 

Mar 2022

Fri Mar 25th Onboard the Queen Mary 2 at sea in the North Atlantic:  Bruce Nutton  had an American father & an English mother and as a teenager, in the 1950s, he crossed the Atlantic several times.  Even as a young man, he himself had a fascination for ships, especially those big, famous liners.   As it happened, he traveled on four of the most illustrious of the 1950s & ‘60s – the Liberte, Ile de France, Queen Mary & United States.   Recently, we met aboard the Queen Mary 2.  He’d attended my talks and some long-ago memories were sparked.

“Despite being English, my mother absolutely loved the French Line, in fact many things French,” he recalled.  “The Liberte might just have been her favorite ship of all.   We were very fortunate to travel in first class and the Liberte’s first class quarters were magnificent:   Fine, highly polished woods, Aubusson carpets, Lalique chandeliers and chairs done in that deep, rich red and which came from the Normandie.   It was all sort of post-war French Art Deco.   The waiters were charming, often good looking and delightfully accented.  Mother was absolutely charmed and even infatuated.   And one of those red-suited bell boys would always appear to light her after-dinner cigarette.   But of course the food, both the preparation and presentation, was, as was said so often,  absolutely magnifique!   It was Skate in butter sauce for breakfast just as you said in your talk.   The caviar and the wines just flowed. Mother went to dinner wearing long gowns, jewels and a fur wrap.  My parents sat each evening through 6 or 7 courses.  Dining was the main event – and then more Champagne and dancing afterward. First class on the Liberte [seen below at Le Havre] was like being in the finest hotel in Paris except that it moved.   It took 6 days, as I recall, to go from Le Havre to New York – and four of those nights were formal dress.” 

The Liberte & Ile de France together at New York, but idle during a French maritime strike in 1957

The main lounge on the Liberte, done largely in gold & in red


But it wasn’t all glamor and luxury and that fine dining for a teenager.   “My father took me one afternoon down to the ship’s indoor pool,” recalled Bruce.  “I think it was on D Deck, at the very bottom of the ship. But I was petrified.  I did not want to go in the water.   I was convinced that there was a hole at the bottom of the pool and which extended underneath the ship itself.   I feared I would be sucked into the ocean – and lost!”

“On another crossing on the Liberte, I did not want to go, to leave my friends in America.  After leaving New York, I went down to the gym where there was a large ship’s wheel mounted on the wall.   It was merely a decorative item, but I was convinced it could be useful – well, useful to me.   I manage to loosen the wheel and turn it 180 degrees.   I was sure this would cause the Liberte to reverse course and return to New York!”

On another crossing, Bruce and his parents took the equally splendid Ile de France.   The year was 1957.   “She was another ship of great decorative style.   The first class restaurant was three decks high and the lounges had fine tapestries as wall hangings.   Our cabin was large, styled in more Art Deco and had a bathtub as long as the Seine.   The Ile was also unique – she had that rare sense of a ship having a ‘soul’.   There was this ambience.   This feeling.   This sense of romance even.   She was, after all, rated as the very best ship for a shipboard romance.   Passengers strolled the promenade deck and it was called a ‘boulevard’ – with passing passengers.   One or two movie stars were on our trip.  You would always smell  expensive French perfume on the lle de France.   And on our crossing, the Ile was still heroic – she had just rescued lots of passengers & crew from the sinking Andrea Doria [July 25th 1956].”


“The Queen Mary was another ship with that sense of having a hidden soul, something different from the steel, wood, nuts & bolts.   The feeling sort of embraced you.  You  just loved being onboard almost from the moment you stepped across the gangway.   We do 3 trips in her.   She was different than the French liners, however.   She was more like some grand old British country house filled with traditions, order, a sense of stately solitude.   The staff, again in first class, were Cunard trained and mannered down to their little fingers.  It was all very proper.  I remember thinking the chef looked like a winter snowman.  He came to our table, with a silver trolley and to carve the finest beef you ever tasted, in an all-white uniform and a big puff hat.   It was all done with a seriousness – there was no idle chit-chat, but highly trained manners.   Yes, the Queen Mary was like the best run country house, a sort of Downton Abbey on the seas.”