Why was the troopship flying three national flags? This was the question foxing Robert Fullarton and his colleagues on Hogarth’s Baron Herries off Colombo, Ceylon in May 1945. The other vessel had passed close by to pick up a pilot before entering port. From her foretop flew the Union Flag, from the port yardarm the Hammer and Sickle of Russia and from the starboard the Star Spangled Banner of the United States. Unheard of! Cut off from outside communications, the onlookers were unaware that this was the Captain’s way of telling the world that the War in Europe had ended. In company with other liners like the great Queens, the ship, the Reina del Pacifico, had been co-opted into the Allied War effort as a troop carrier. Painted a uniform matt grey, her appearance differed markedly from her gleaming peacetime white livery while she plied her trade as a passenger liner between the west coast of South America, and from the Caribbean to Liverpool.
The Reina came to my attention on buying a lovely scratch-built model of the fine-lined, twin-funnelled vessel. The model came from Newport’s KCs Antiques, in the Pill area, a stone’s throw from the Welsh city’s docks. (pill, incidentally, is a term of German origin used to denote a sea creek).
After a distinguished career, the Reina del Pacifico had met her end to the welders’ torches of John Cashmore shipbreakers in the town but the model is just one example of a wealth of maritime-related items to be found scattered around the pubs, hotels and houses of Newport and its environs to this day. One Newport tavern has a bar counter salvaged from the White Star Line’s Doric and an imposing table from the Reina herself found its way to the old Newport Police Headquarters.
The Reina has its own website but an appeal by me for information on the ship through Sea Breezes brought a gratifyingly huge response from a number of very helpful readers.
Harland and Wolff Commissioned by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company she began life in the shipyard of Harland and Wolff, Queen’s Island, Belfast and made her first voyage in April 1931 from Liverpool to Valparaiso (Chile) calling at La Rochelle (France), Vigo (Spain), Hamilton (Bermuda), Nassau (Bahamas), Havan (Cuba), Kingston (Jamaica), Panama Canal, Guyaquil (Ecuador), Callao and Antofagata (Chile). Up to this time, the usual voyage time was 34 days which the Reina cut to 27 and later 25 days.
From her earliest days the Reina was a popular ship with crew and passengers alike. The first of her line to be white painted, she was the largest and fastest motor liner of her age.