QE2 steams out of Southampton for the Falklands cheered on by well-wishers.
QE2 steams out of Southampton for the Falklands cheered on by well-wishers. Cunard Line and British Army News

Camp beds and caviar on the QE2

FEW governments send their troops into battle on a diet of caviar.

Nor do they choose the world's most famous cruise liner to land them into the field of war.

But that's what Britain did when it requisitioned the 70,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth 2 from Cunard Line for use as a troopship in 1982's 74-day war, declared by Argentina against the UK in the Falkland Islands.

It must have had the matrons of Madison Ave choking on their Moets at the thought of all those size 12 boots being suddenly parked in place of the finest Italian hand-mades in restaurants, lounges and state rooms.

And Her Majesty's finest doubtless never thought they were going to have it so good going into battle.

But their dreams of a Champagne cruise were quickly shattered: gone were the casino and the plush bars, closed were the lounges they must have mused of lolling around in while awaiting the call of duty.

In their place were dormitories with row upon row of camp stretchers.

Also missing was the health club - not to mention the tennis court, the pool and the duty-free grog shop.

The tennis court and pool, they soon discovered, had been decked-over and were now mini helicopter pads, and the grog shop had been stripped bare of its treasures and securely locked.

Plus, over the thousands of square metres of cosy carpets had been placed countless sheets of timber hardboard to protect them from hobnailed boots.

Worse still, any chance of getting away from army tucker and into QE2's legendary caviar and foie gras, the duck in cherry sauce, the lobster medallions with parsley cream dressing, the beef Wellingtons, and the crepes flamed with Cointreau and served with double cream… well, sorry, fellas.

Cunard was taking its larders off QE2, and the army was putting its on.

British troops muster aboard QE2 heading to the Falklands.
British troops muster aboard QE2 heading to the Falklands.

Then a cheeky Welsh Guards officer put it to his superior officers, with a copy of his letter strategically sent to Cunard's boardroom, that he and his men, for Queen and country, faced possible death in the Falklands ... and couldn't they enjoy just a little of Cunard's renowned hospitality?

The Army and the shipping company conferred - and remarkably Cunard left on board enough caviar for the trip to the Falklands ... QE2 wouldn't be hanging around once she'd unloaded her human fighting machine, so there'd be no need for caviar supplies on the return journey as well.

Why the British government wanted QE2 caused plenty of tut-tutting among those who'd suddenly found their annual ocean soirees cancelled, but there was good reason: QE2 was the fastest passenger ship afloat, with a top speed of more than 32 knots.

She was large enough to carry 3600 troops, and she was built tough enough (to true Scottish shipyard traditions,) to withstand any minor skirmishes.

Thus most of HM's troops found themselves on their camp stretchers occupying much of the crews' quarters (50% of the crew had been taken off.

After all, there was hardly the need for a cruise director, bar staff, kennel maids, nannies, disc jockeys, wine stewards and exercise supervisors.)

However, a luckier few, mostly officers, did score some of the passenger cabins.

QE2 took 18 days to zig-zag her way to South Georgia Island (so putting the Argentines off her trail) where she transferred all 3600 troops to a fleet of smaller vessels for their final landings ashore.

Argentine troops readying for action in the 74-day war.
Argentine troops readying for action in the 74-day war.

Then, empty, she steamed back home where it took several months and several million pounds to get her back into service to resume her weekly five-night, trans-Atlantic crossings between Southampton and New York.

And just to show the company had not lost any of its capacity to ensure its guests were once more pampered to the extreme, for each crossing, Cunard loaded aboard two tonnes of prime beef, 68kg of caviar, 45kg of foie gras, a tonne of fresh lobster, another tonne of fresh fish, 1.3 tonne of duck, 2.5 tonne of fruit and vegetables … plus 22,000 bottles of wine, 13,000 bottles of beer, 1300 of spirits - and enough supplies to whip up 24,000 scoops of ice-cream.

When she retired, after nearly 40 years as an Atlantic liner and world cruise ship, the grand QE2 had carried more than two million passengers and steamed some 8,600,000 km.


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