Cunard's ocean liners advertising boasts of having 'The Most Famous Ocean Liners in the World'. It is no idle claim since the company has given us some of the best-known and best-loved ships that ever sailed, their distinctive livery making them instantly recognisable and admired all over the world. As Cunard reaches the milestone of its 175th anniversary, the popularity of this most iconic of brands has not waned, indeed it has increased - quite an achievement in today's global economy. Much of this is the result of building what is the only modern ocean liner - the magnificent Queen Mary 2 - and continuing to operate the only scheduled transatlantic ocean crossing in the world. The three ocean liners of the current fleet draw crowds wherever they are across the globe and the Cunard Lion looks set to roar well into the future.

Ocean Liners

Advertising blurb? OK, I confess it is the information on the back of Andrew Sassoli-Walker’s and my latest book. We fell into writing books on maritime history by accident but five books later it is a subject we both still love and hope some of our infectious enthusiasm for the subject will rub off our readers.

I have been writing books, mainly on local history, since 1987. When P&O Cruises announced their adult-only small ship, Artemis would leave the fleet in 2010, Andrew, who works in the Port of Southampton, contacted me and asked if I would like to collaborate on a small book to mark her passing. Andrew is a semi-professional photographer and has thousands of images of ocean liners in the Hampshire port, while I would bring my experience of recording people’s memories and researching history to the partnership. As regular P&O Cruises’ passengers, we both had a love for the ocean liners and I have been collecting liner memorabilia since my teens. With Amberley on board (no pun intended!), the idea snowballed and grew from being a small self-published memory book, to a full-colour 120 page volume that P&O Cruises were so pleased with, they purchased as a gift for everyone on the final voyage. This then led to them inviting us to pitch for a commission to write a book to mark 175 years of their heritage in 2012, a commission we won! It was a very proud moment to witness the Grand Event when all seven of their ships gathered in Southampton that year and to know we were a small part of the celebrations. In between we have produced books on the cruise ocean liners 'Oriana and Aurora' and 'A Year in the Life of the P&O Cruises Fleet'.

Ocean Liners

We knew 2015 marked the 175th anniversary of Cunard but accepted there would be many straightforward history books. For this reason we decided to mark the event, but follow the format of our Year in the Life of the P&O Fleet book. Our aim is to make the books eminently readable, but to give the reader information they may not know or even have thought about. We have both travelled with Cunard; highlights of our voyages include my being on the maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth and, for Andrew, being on board Queen Mary 2 en route to Hamburg with a large number of German passengers when they won the World Cup.

The preparation time for all our books is around one year and during this period we collect potential images, contact officers and crew, both serving and retired, and invite passengers to send us their anecdotes and memories. Andrew was commissioned to take photographs by the Port of Southampton when Cunard celebrated HM the Queen's golden jubilee. He was afforded unprecedented access to get some very exclusive photos, some of which appear in the book.

We were particularly lucky in that retired commodore of the fleet, Bernard Warner, was happy to assist us. One of my most abiding memories in writing the Artemis book was being invited onto the magnificent bridge of Queen Mary 2 to chat to Bernard, then her master, about his early days at sea on Royal Princess as Artemis was at that time. Another well-known and much respected contributor was Captain Ian McNaught, past master of the QE2 for many years and now working at Trinity House. Andrew had the opportunity to meet with Commodore Ron Warwick, Captain Robert Camby and architect of Queen Mary 2, Stephen Payne, who gave his valuable time in answering the many questions we had. I think a combination of their enthusiasm along with ours hopefully comes through to the reader. Many others have helped along the way and we are very grateful. Without their photos, memories and mementos the books would not have been so successful. It is a tough job to whittle down the material to fit within the format required and sadly we can’t include everything.

The book was released in April – just in time for the well-publicised Cunard Salute to Liverpool over the Whitsun bank holiday weekend. I was lucky enough to be on board Queen Victoria for this first time gathering of all three Cunard Queens in the River Mersey. It was an event that will last long in my memory, from the convoy up the river to Liverpool, the water ‘ballet’ performed by these huge ships with a finale of a flypast by the Red Arrows and last but not least, joining other authors, including Peter Snow, for a book signing on the last day.

Now, what shall we write about next??


A Year in the Life of the Cunard Fleet by Sharon Poole & Andrew Sassoli-Walker is available for purchase now.