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Highlights In The Shadows: 28 - QE Voyage

When the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth arrived in New York on her first commercial voyage after the war a flotilla of fireboats greeted her by spraying water hundreds of feet into the air. She was accompanied by many craft of all shapes and sizes, decked with bunting, hooting loudly, as they joined in the welcoming armada.

Owen Clement and his family were aboard the vessel, heading for a fresh start in the New World.

The huge SS Queen Elizabeth rolled and humped her way across the Atlantic for five days and nights. I found it a very different ship to the Empress of Scotland. Travelling on this ship was like being in a large impersonal high-class hotel.

When the vessel arrived in New York, as it was her maiden commercial voyage, a flotilla of fireboats greeted her by spraying water hundreds of feet into the air accompanied by many craft of all shapes and sizes decked with bunting hooting loudly as they joined in the welcoming armada.

The ship docked right under a six-lane freeway. Other passengers and I were transfixed watching a continuous flow for hours, three lanes each way, of the biggest and flashiest cars in the world.

Because we were transients on our way to Canada, my family was among the last group of passengers to go through the U.S. customs and immigration authorities. Even though the ship had berthed at eight o'clock in the morning, we were unable to disembark until late in the afternoon.

As soon as we left the terminal, we took a Yellow cab to Brooklyn hoping to visit our American air force friend, Chuck Denova. Chuck, a commercial artist, had been the first person to teach me how to improve my drawing skills. On our instructions, the cab driver took us the long way, showing us the sights of New York. Despite the luxurious cars, the brilliantly lit shops and streets and the smartly dressed people, to me, New York had the same grimy overcrowded look of Birkenhead.

When we arrived at the rather rundown brownstone apartment building, the address Chuck had given us; his father came to the door in his pyjamas to say that Chuck had since moved to Philadelphia. Feeling disappointed we returned to the railway station in good time to board the overnight train for Montreal.

The next day we spent many agonizing hours in Montreal trying to be inconspicuous among the stylishly dressed well-fed Canadians. I had grown to hate with a passion my dark brown striped double-breasted Utility suit issued to me soon after we had arrived in Birkenhead. My mother felt embarrassed by her home made clothes even more so.

I remember us walking into a well-stocked cake shop and my saying to the proprietor, "Can I buy that?" pointing to a succulent golden-brown cake. He snarled back in a French Canadian accent, "You can buy everything in the shop of you want." He was obviously unsympathetic to migrants from Britain.

For our dinner, we ate fried chicken in a café displaying the sign "Fingers were made before forks".

We took refuge in a movie theatre until it was time for us to board the Canadian National Railway train for our three-day journey across Canada to Vancouver. We travelled on the government owned Canadian National rather than on the Canadian Pacific Railway, as Dad was able to get a concession being a railway man in India.

My spirit of adventure was rekindled when we crossed the vast Canadian continent. We did not see the countryside of Quebec or Ontario as the train travelle4d through them during the night. However, we did see mile after mile of flat unending wheat plains until we reached the magnificent Rockies, where at times, the rail lines ran on trellises built on the side of the mountain: some of it with a roof overhead to prevent minor or major avalanches. I remember my mother sitting in the carriage leaning towards the mountain with the belief that her weight would make a difference.

I still believe after all these years that the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia have the most beautiful and grandest scenery one could ever see in this world.

© Clement 2006


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