x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The treasure trove of the QE2

Once one of the most glamourous liners to sail the ocean, its discarded bric-a-brac now gathers dust as it lies in a wooden shed in Dubai.

Alexi Trenouth looks over some of the memorabilia from the Queen Elizabeth 2.
Alexi Trenouth looks over some of the memorabilia from the Queen Elizabeth 2.

DUBAI // The ramshackle shed on a dusty road to Bur Dubai would not normally raise a second glance. Who would guess that it housed a cache of treasures? But look at the writing scrawled on the flaps of the cardboard boxes inside and all becomes clear.

On each of the boxes, which contain everything from books and CDs to tea sets and party decorations, is written in black marker pen: "QE2". Within this simple, brown wooden shed lie the remnants of one of the greatest names of the sea, gathering dust in the hands of the Mission to Seafarers charity - a rather ignominious end to a liner symbolic of the glamour era, when ocean travel catered to the affluent and influential members of society.

When the Queen Elizabeth 2 made her final voyage and berthed in Dubai, the new owners, Nakheel Hotels, wondered what to do with the mountains of paraphernalia on board. Much of the booty was boxed and shipped to the charity, which aims to help sailors in need. Volunteers were startled to discover its connection with the old dame of the seas. "We were completely swamped when dozens of boxes from the QE2 suddenly started arriving in the tiny unit that we use as our office," said Alexi Trenouth, one of the international charity's co-ordinators in Dubai.

It was thought that no one would want these items, she said, yet there was great sentimental attachment to anything associated with the ship. "It is such a British symbol that even things like the chief purser's notebook and the Wedgwood china used on board transport you back to that time." According to the charity's chaplain, the Rev Stephen Miller, the bric-a-brac discarded by Nakheel has gained new significance after being sold and raising about Dh30,000 (US$8,000) for those still plying a trade at sea.

"It is a bit sad," he said, "but a lot of the crockery was salvaged from a skip, where it had been tossed because it was not thought to be worth anything." A white porcelain teapot and sugar pot with the Cunard crest, which belonged to the captain and was rescued from a skip, fetched Dh15,000 at auction, he said. "I have been amazed at the value of the QE2 name. It surprised me how many people were even interested in things like books simply because they had a QE2 stamp in them. We sold some at a fun day in Fujairah and they were gone in seconds."

The QE2 docked in Port Rashid for a final time in November with a mournful bellow of her foghorn and a farewell belch of black smoke from the red funnel. Nakheel, which bought the vessel from Cunard for Dh276 million, plans to spend the next three years ripping out the interior and transforming the liner into a luxury hotel. Most of the valuable memorabilia, including the funnel, portraits of the Queen and the late Queen Mother and a silver spoon collection, have been preserved for a museum, which will open as part of the hotel complex.

The rest was either thrown away or given to charity. In December, boxes marked "QE2" began arriving at the Mission to Seafarers headquarters in Dubai, a portable shack with a garden shed in its tiny grounds. "We spent hours going through them and had great fun," Ms Trenouth said. "There were about 50 boxes altogether but at the time, we were wrapping 2,500 Christmas presents for seafarers so the office was completely swamped."

Nearly half the boxes were filled with books from the ship, whose collection of 6,000 had formed the world's largest floating library. Most bore a Cunard or QE2 stamp, which made them more valuable. There were sparkling decorations from special events, golfing umbrellas marked with Cunard's logo and stationery belonging to the crew. The crockery included Wedgwood china plates and cups, some formerly owned by the crew and emblazoned with the message: "I celebrated my birthday on board."

The donations ranged from the obscure, such as a box of German literature, to the bizarre, such as a wooden replica boat with tiny figures playing chess on board, presented in Tahiti to a former captain, Nick Bates. Hundreds of crew uniforms were donated to the charity, which passed them to sailors in need. A box of children's toys from the creche was given to Al Noor school, and children's fancy-dress outfits, including miniature commodore and bullfighter garb used for parties aboard, were presented to Greenfield Community School.

About half the pickings have been sold at different events - at the Dubai flea market, at a high tea, at a marine ball. A map of the QE2's world tour signed by a former captain, Commodore Ronald Warwick, fetched Dh3,000 in an auction at the high tea while a book on the ship's routes raised Dh1,500. Some of the remaining spoils may be a little harder to turn into cash, including a Mike Ellis Jazz and Swing Band CD - Swingin' Back Through the Years - a German version of a Berlitz travel guide to Scotland and a hymn book belonging to the cruise director.

But Ms Trenouth, who said she refused to sell a book to an American because he had never heard of Cunard, said: "Anything related to the QE2 is a source of great pride and we have had a lot of British people wanting memorabilia at our sales. "It is hard not to get emotional about it and, in a way, I do not want to let the stuff go. We want to keep its value and sell it for good prices as this is an expensive charity to run and every bit helps. Our seafaring rescue vessel, the Flying Angel, costs $750 a day to run.

"We need the space, though, so the more people who can support the cause, the better. Quite a few people in Dubai have bought things, so it is heartening to know there are bits of the QE2 all over the city." tyaqoob@thenational.ae