Staff magazine of the Cunard Steamship Company, Christmas 1928

The Cunard Line has a long and fascinating history. It was created in 1839 when Samuel Cunard won the Admiralty’s tender to provide a transatlantic mail service to be carried by steamships between Great Britain and North America. The service was inaugurated in 1840 when the steamship Britannia made the first crossing to Halifax and then Boston.

Cunard’s ‘ocean greyhounds’ soon faced stiff competition from other American, British and especially German companies, who all wanted a share in the profitable business of ferrying mail, European emigrants and wealthy passengers across the Atlantic.

It was the particular desire to attract these wealthy passengers that drove ship-owners to build ever larger and more luxurious ocean liners, and the record-breaking Cunarders certainly excelled in scale and luxury. Cunard ships were the first to boast electricity on board, gymnasia and health centres, children’s playrooms, libraries, wireless communication, bridal suites, ice boxes, en-suite accommodation and lounges for women.

The company’s fortunes were deeply affected by the Crimean War and by the two World Wars, when many of its ships were requisitioned and a number lost. Two of the most famous tragedies in the company’s history were the loss of the Lusitania in 1915 and the Lancastria in 1940.

After the Second World War the age of transatlantic travel by sea came to an end with the rise of commercial passenger transport by air. Cunard adapted to the new era by building smaller ships, designed for the holiday cruise market and able to sail through the Suez and Panama canals.

Today this company, over 160 years old, no longer is a British company and has operated of a suburb in Los Angeles.  The British flag for Cunard no longer exits and their ships now fly flags of convenience.  The ships have a few British personel but the majority of staff is international.  The legendary vessels as the Mauretania, Aquitania, Berengaria, and the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary of the 1930s are gone along with that famed service.  Cunard is now just another part of the Carnival corporation and their ships reflect “Vegas” style mass travel.

Petulance of elderly passenger on discovering only one magnum of champagne in his stocking’, Cunard Christmas Annual 1928 ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

During its long history, the Cunard Line has produced many publications. These are mainly promotional brochures and tourist guides for passengers but some are magazines that seem to have been aimed at Cunard staff and crews. This Christmas publication of 1928 appears to be an example. The front cover has a strangely nostalgic period illustration. It is a port scene with characters dressed in clothes from the mid-19th century, while the ships are mainly sailing vessels except for one on the horizon, which has steam coming out of its single funnel.

On page 11 there is a message from the chairman, Sir Thomas Royden: ‘To all associated with the Cunard Line I send my heartiest greetings for Christmas and the New Year. My best thanks to all Cunarders, both ashore and afloat, for their work during the past twelve months.’ It is interesting to see the term ‘Cunarder’, now normally a term for the vessels, being used also to refer to the company’s staff.

“When are you going to start singing?” Cunard Christmas Annual 1928, p 39. Repro ID: F6200 ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The magazine’s contents are a strange mixture of short stories, poems, humorous cartoons and illustrations, and reproductions of paintings and drawings of varying quality, as well as photographs. As one might expect to find in a publication meant for the company’s staff, most of the humorous cartoons, gently poke fun at the passengers. However, the editors are not averse to making fun of the company and its history too, and one has to applaud an organization confident to laugh at itself in this way.

Other offerings merely comment good-humoredly on the normal festive excesses we all indulge in at Christmas. We know from the Cunard Cook Book by Carol Wright (1969) that the Christmas recipe suggested for the Berengaria in 1923 was an elaborate roast turkey with truffles in a Madeira wine sauce.

Only two years after this magazine was published the Cunard Line, like many others, was hit very hard by the economic depression that followed the 1929 Wall Street crash. Building work on two new ships stopped and the company merged with its old and equally struggling rival, the White Star Line. Together, they both received financial help from the British government to revitalize their fleets.

For more information CLICK HERE to visit the ROYAL NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM website.


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.