The Real Poseidon Adventure: On board the RMS Mauretania

The Real Poseidon Adventure

On board the RMS Mauretania

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Parsley Box meals are enjoyed by a host of fascinating individuals who have led experience-rich lives and have poignant and moving stories to tell.

We launched the Parsley Box Magazine to showcase these incredible true life stories, so that others can enjoy and learn from them.

Our customer Alfred, 88, got in touch with us through our magazine to share the story of a particularly memorable night aboard the RMS Mauretania, a luxury cruise liner on which he worked as a cinema projectionist.

RMS Mauretania

The RMS Mauretania (the second so-named) was an ocean liner launched from Birkenhead, England in 1938. It had a tonnage of 35,739 gross, and was 235m (772 feet) in length.

If you have a story to share and would like to be featured in our magazine, please get in touch.

And now for Alfred’s story in his own words.…

The RMS Mauretania was the third largest ship, after the RMS Queen Mary and the RMS Queen Elizabeth in the Cunard Fleet of Transatlantic passenger and cruise liners.

Anyone who has seen the 1972 movie ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ may probably think that a ship as large as the Mauretania could not possibly be overpowered by a large wave. Well let me tell you otherwise.

I was 19 years old and for some months had been working as a cinema projectionist aboard the Mauretania.

It was the 18th November 1952 and we were in the mid-Atlantic heading for New York, when the news came from the bridge that we were in the path of a fierce storm.

Such was its size, the captain could not find any way to skirt around it and so we were forewarned to prepare for the worst. The ship was sealed and battened down and loose objects tied into place or put into lockers.

Alfred aboard the RMS Mauretania in 1952.

Life aboard went on as usual with meals being served, movies shown, people continued to visit the lounges and order drinks, play cards – whatever took their fancy. The motion of the ship started to become more noticeable as the day wore on and some of the passengers started to feel queasy and took to their bunks having declined their meals.

I too found that my stomach was feeling unsettled as the ship was buffeted and thrown about by the wind and waves and being in a darkened projection room did not help matters. The senior projectionist Ken, and I got through the show in the first-class cinema without mishap and stowing everything away, we made for our cabin.

It was now about 10.30pm ship’s time.

‘Ship’s time’ – the local mean time of the meridian where a ship is located.

Getting ready for bed, I decided to fit my bunk board. This board slots into place to prevent the occupant rolling out onto the deck which is about six feet below the bunk, my bunk being the top bunk of the two. Ken being older had the bottom bunk.

I used to rib Ken about him being old and decrepit. He finds it a good opportunity to get back at me with some banter about me not being seaman enough to sleep in my bunk without putting up the board.

Giving Ken the bird, I climbed into my bunk and switched off my light.

How long I dozed for I have no idea. I was brought back to awareness when the ship appeared to go into a dive and I feel that my bunk is tipping over sideways.

My feet are now pressing on the side of the locker at the bottom of my bunk and stopping me from sliding down.

There is a juddering and falling feeling which is brought up sharply with a bang, the ship heels over to the port side and I am laying on the bunk board and not my bunk.

Ken meanwhile falls from his bunk, across the cabin and hits the opposite bulkhead. Draws fitted under the bunks slide out from their positions and fly across the cabin. I hear others in their cabins sliding across the deck and hitting the bulkheads. There is a lot of shouting going on and things can be heard crashing about. The ship was on her side for what felt like an eternity.

Eventually the ship started to rise into an upright position and I found myself rolling back into my bunk. Ken meanwhile had got himself up from the deck. I got down from my bunk and others started to come into the passageway from their cabins. After a quick check we find that there are no serious injuries amongst our group.

Going into the mess room we find that draws of cutlery had come out spilling their contents and crockery had come adrift and smashed causing a mess. We set to and tried to sort out the confusion of the mess room and then helped sort out the cabins that had suffered the worst of it. In some cases, lockers had burst open spilling their contents all over the place.

It was decided that we could not do anything more that night, so we went back to our bunks to try get some sleep. As the adrenalin was in full flow, I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning waiting for morning.

Breakfast was a non-event.

We were lucky to get some coffee as the cooking areas were in a terrible mess and the cooks were doing everything they could to put things right.

The weather had eased during the night and it was not as violent as the day before.

The ship had to run as normal in spite of the damage caused by the storm

Some of the passengers and crew had not come away unscathed and there were many cases of broken bones.

Surprisingly the cinemas were not affected.

The projection rooms were in good shape apart from a few small loose items being thrown about. We were able to get things up and running and put on the first show of the day at 10am as usual, for those who wanted to see a movie in spite of all the excitement going on around them.

When we got to New York some crew members bought newspapers and I remember seeing one paper with the headline MAURETANIA BATTERED across the front page. I think closing down the ship saved us all from a watery grave and my thanks go to Captain Donald W. Sorrell for his seamanship and foresight in doing so.

Alfred (far right) celebrates his 21st birthday with his crewmates aboard the RMS Mauretania, 1954.

Alfred’s story and images shared with permission.

If you have a story to share and would like to be featured in our magazine, please get in touch.