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Thomas McCarthy Hamilton

The Last Great Cruise of The Queen Mary


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Story by: The Queen Mary Archivist

Date added: 5 Oct 2017

Tom had been a Quartermaster on the Maiden Voyage.

At the evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940, during World War II, his left eye had been blinded when his ship was blown out of the water.

As reported by Bill Duncan :
The biggest business aboard the Queen Mary is in the ship's two libraries. It isn't that the passengers are such avid readers, it’s just that the library is also the post office.
"It is unbelievable, unprecedented" T. McCarthy Hamilton, librarian in the ship's aft library said of the mail volume. "I've never seen anything like this and I've been at sea 43 years with the Royal Mail Service." Hamilton, who made Mary's maiden voyage in 1936, said "the volume of out-going mail is without question the most I've seen." Alastair Beers, librarian in the forward library, concurs. "There's not a chance that anything I've seen in my years at sea can surpass the sale of stamps we've made on this cruise." Beers said it has been impossible to forecast the need of stamps on board. The ship must take on a supply of stamps from the countries she is to make port in, but Beers said "I sold out of Portuguese stamps the first day out of Southampton, and took more on in Lisbon and sold out of them too."
At Las Palmas, only a 12-hour stop, the Spanish stamps were snapped up within hours. Leaving Las Palmas, the ship took on a supply of 7,000 Brazilian stamps. "These stamps were sold out in one day."
The stamps are purchased from the embassies of the country the Mary will visit next. "We've just never had to buy them in such large quantities before" Beers said "It is a hard thing to judge." As many as 10,000 first day cover envelopes have been mailed. First-day covers are a collector's item. Hamilton, who sailed the Mary for 14 years, was on board the Queen Elizabeth when it was announced the Mary was sailing to Long Beach for her last voyage. "I immediately applied for duty on her last voyage" he said. "I took her into service and I wanted very much to take her out." He has seen a lot of mail in his years at sea, but "I've never seen a time in which we couldn't get all the mail in bags. On this trip, we had to get big cardboard boxes to supplement our mail bags because we used up all the bags by the time we reached Lisbon." In both libraries, long lines of passengers queued up daily for stamps. "There was a sign telling the people that we would not have stamps until we reached Rio but I came in one morning and there was the line already formed. When I told them we had no more stamps and wouldn't until we got to Brazil, one American piped 'We just thought we'd be first in line for Rio.' The ship was four days from Brazil that day.

The most difficult job the librarians have is converting currency. Think for a moment the difficulty these men have - they are English and familiar with the Pound Sterling monetary system. Because the ship's passengers are mostly Americans, they are dealing in dollars and cents, but must convert this "foreign" money into Escudos (Portugal), Pesetas (Spain) and then into Cruzeiros (Brazil) for the purchase of stamps. "It sometimes takes a little time to figure when a passenger asks for airmail stamps for 20 postcards and 10 letters" Beers said. "The long line starts to grumble, but we do the best we can as fast as we can." And it never fails that, while the librarians are swamped with stamp sales, someone always comes up and wants service checking out a book. Who's got time to read?

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