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The Last Reunion - Shaw Savill

Dominion Monarch - Shaw Savill and Albion Line - Silvertown

(You will recognise this photo if you watch the BBC's popular series "Call the Midwife")

Yesterday Saturday 21st May the final Shaw Savill Reunion was held in Southampton and so marks the end of an era for all the seadogs that once sailed on this prestigious Shipping Line. Meanwhile “Down Under” a mini gathering of Shaw Savill retirees is planned for later this year. Anyone interested can contact Jamie via Salty Seadog.

Sixty years ago, this year Shaw Savill launched their new ship “Northern Star”. She was built following the success of “Southern Cross” They were quite advanced one class ocean liners built for continuous ‘Around the World” service. Voyages were approximately 75 days, from Southampton to Australia and New Zealand outward via South Africa and return via Panama or in reverse order.

Shaw Savill - Northern Star launched in 1962

Prior to this in 1939 Shaw Savill and Albion Line introduced their new QSMV Dominion Monarch (Her unique initials stood for "Quadruple Screw Motor Vessel".) The Dominion Monarch was a luxurious first-class passenger-cargo liner and the largest of her type ever built. At the time of her introduction, she was also the most powerful motor liner in the world. She was an unusual ship as her design was that of a large passenger-cargo liner, with a relatively small passenger compliment considering her size. To this day, Dominion Monarch remains the largest (all first class) cargo-passenger liner ever to be built.

On the 3rd September 1939 when Great Britain and France declared war on Germany and the Second World War started. Her ship’s company started painting her grey, making her ready for war service. She was considered too luxurious to become a troopship and it was decided that she should resume her Australasian service and set out with very few passengers due to the threat of attack from German submarines lurking in British waters.

However, the round voyage was relatively uneventful, and she returned to Britain with a full capacity of vital foodstuffs and war supplies.

QSMV Dominion Monarch

During the course of this journey, much of her passenger accommodation was used for additional cargo space; crates of fruit and vegetables were stored in her public rooms and large stacks of wool were stowed on the games deck. On a future trip, she was loaded with a large cargo and 100 Australian Soldiers. These men were able to enjoy all the luxury of her first-class accommodation on their passage which ended in Liverpool.

She did have one sticky moment when the Japanese attack on Singapore was imminent in 1942, Dominion Monarch was being fitted out and her engines were disabled, with her main engine dismantled. However, working under the chief engineer, the crew did a magnificent job of re-assembling her engines and she was able to leave Singapore on the night of 8th February 1942, the eve of the Japanese invasion.

After the war she returned to regular service. In 1955 she was joined by the new ship Southern Cross.

The Southern Cross was one of the most revolutionary ships ever built. She was the first aft engined passenger liner ever built and thus revolutionised ship design forever. Her example was then followed by other notable ships such as Holland America’s Rotterdam and P&O’s Canberra. Indeed, many of today’s modern cruise ships follow her pioneering design principles. She was the first one-class passenger liner ever built and did not carry cargo, and as a result, she was the first true passenger-only liner.

By the mid-sixties, the Australasian luxury passenger market was declining, and Shaw Savill decided that Dominion Monarch, this grand luxury liner was uneconomic and had to be sold.

In 1962 “Northern Star” replaced the grand old lady. "Northern Star" was slightly larger than “Southern Cross” she carried 1437 passengers, of course, first class was now gone, and she sailed as a one-class ship and continued with voyages to Australia.

However, competition from airlines was increasing and from the early 1970 she spent most of her time cruising. She was continually beset with mechanical problems due to inadequate maintenance. With the great increase in oil prices in 1973/4 she became uneconomic and would have required an expensive and time-consuming refit to make up for the deferred maintenance and so was withdrawn from service at the end of her 1975 summer cruise programme. Despite being only twelve years old her poor mechanical condition made her unattractive to other operators and she was sold for scrap.

Salty Seadog Jamie worked onboard Southern Cross and Northern Star and recalls.

Unlike cruise liners, I worked on immigrant liners on mainline voyages. However, we did sell shore excursions in each port we visited. Our life as young Pursers is very similar, I trained in Shaw Savill’s passenger office in Haymarket, London for 6 months before joining my first ship, Southern Cross, at Southampton in December 1967. During my time in London, actioned passenger bookings, allocation of berths, and matching single travellers with others of same-sex, in 4 or 6 berth cabins for the 5 or 6-week voyage to Australia or NZ. It was an interesting insight into how I could foresee strangers living and cohabitating together for the duration of the voyage.

Back in my early days at sea, we had no professional entertainers, until the early 70's when we had a troupe of professionals known as Vic Ogleys' mob. You were probably like me, thrown into the deep end, without any training, and told to MC the ballroom dancing in the Lounge. At that time, my only experience in dancing, was Scottish Country Dancing, at school.

After our passenger fleet was taken out of service in 1975 as a result of airline competition, we formed a club, Shaw Savill Society where all sea-going staff, shore staff, and even passengers were invited to join our group. Last May, was supposed to be the Final Reunion in Southampton before the UK Society wound up, which of course was postponed because of Covid. The reunion was delayed but has now taken place on Saturday 21st May.

In NZ, I am one of the founder members of the Society in this part of the world, and although we had our final National gathering in Auckland 3 years ago, we have since had two mini gatherings and planning another for this year. Our membership in NZ was over 200 has now dwindled to 20 regulars.

Anyone interested can contact Jamie via Salty Seadog .

Other Shaw Savill Stories

A Big Thanks to Jamie for helping me with the details about Shaw Savill for this blog.

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I worked as Assistant Purser (latterly Third Purser on both Northern Star and Southern Cross between January 1963 and October 1965 when I left to marry my late wife, Wendy Smith, who I met in her role of Ship's Nurse under Dr Danny Morgan on Northern Star. We went to live in Perth, W.A. where she was from; I became a QANTAS manager. Say hello if any of you served on the NS or SC during my time with Shaw Sav. Very fond memories. Christopher Shearwood.

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Tim Dick
Tim Dick
May 22, 2022

Marvellous piece - the innocence of that time is greatly missed... Thank you for putting this together!

Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
May 23, 2022
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Tim. If ypu have any ideas for future blogs or if you have a subject you would like to write about please let me know.

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