RMS Mauretania is, or rather was, the most famous ship ever built on the Tyne. It emerged from the Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Yard at Wallsend in 1906 – the largest and fastest vessel in the world at its launch. She was one of the most iconic ships in maritime history – the flagship of the Cunard Line and holder of the transatlantic Blue Riband for 22 years from 1907.
The construction of the ship took around two years prior to its launch on 20th September 1906. She sat in the river for a further year being fitted out to her famous high standards, and commenced trials in September 1907. She left the river amidst great ceremony the following month to be delivered to Liverpool, where the world’s largest moving structure embarked upon her maiden voyage in November 1907.
She plied her passenger trade across the Atlantic for several years, stacking up the speed and time records – making 88 perfect crossings of the ocean during 1908-11 alone at an average speed of over 25 knots.
During the Great War, Mauretania was requisitioned by the Admiralty. She was only ever armed during her wartime service towards the end of hostilities, but helped 10,000 troops on their way to the doomed Gallipoli campaign, narrowly avoided being torpedoed, and was latterly converted into a hospital ship. She also transported troops hither and thither as needs required, including taking many soldiers back home to North America after the war.
She returned to her Cunard service in 1919, but wear and tear soon began to show. An on-board fire then brought her home for a refit on the Tyne during 1921-22 – prompting great local celebration – before returning to her glorious transatlantic best. Cruises were also by then a part of her remit, carrying some of the world’s richest folk around the Mediterranean and further afield. A further upgrade to her machinery in 1923 at Southampton and Cherbourg provided a further boost to her career. She finally lost the prestigious Blue Riband to the German ship Bremen in 1929.
She spent her latter days cruising the Caribbean, where a repaint earned for her the nicknames “The White Queen” and “The Wedding Cake”. Finally withdrawn from service in 1934, she sailed back to Southampton, was stripped, and, in 1935, was taken to the breakers yard at Rosyth. As she passed the mouth of the Tyne on her way north, thousands of mourners lined the shore, a flotilla buzzed lovingly around her creaking bulk, and local dignitaries paid their last respects in an on-board ceremony. The Mauretania then disappeared out of sight and into history.
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