Story of the "Empress of France"

Sue McPherson 2004

On September 1, 1948, the Empress of France took her first voyage under her new name, sailing from Liverpool to Quebec and Montreal. During 1946 she had made her last voyages connected with war, as the Duchess of Bedford, helping with the repatriation of Canadian and British troops in India and the Middle East, returning to Liverpool finally, for refurbishment as a passenger ship. For further information on the preparation of the ship for passenger service view Once completed, the Empress continued to make regular crossings to Canada, to Montreal in the summer season and to Saint John, New Brunswick in the winter, at the rate of fourteen or fifteen trips a year, to a total of 186 voyages over the next twelve years.

Two of the Empress's more well-known passengers, off on a tour of Canada, were the former Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth, and the Duke of Edinburgh, who occupied cabins A32, 34 and 36 on the outward bound Empress, 25 September 1951. In 1958 the Empress was fitted with two new funnels, tapered, with black cowls. Just two years later, on her return to Liverpool from Montreal on December 7, 1960, her last trip for Canadian Pacific, she was offered for sale, to be replaced by one of the new Empresses built after the war. During the twenty years as the Duchess of Bedford, (1928-48) and a further twelve years as the Empress of France (1948-60), the ship had carried not only a princess and a duke but 146,678 troops, 11,390 prisoners of war, 21,739 civilians, and 86,249 tons of cargo.

The Duchess of Bedford had been launched in 1928, by Mrs Stanley Baldwin, wife of Britain's prime minister. On her second westbound voyage the Bedford set a new record of six days, nine and a half hours for the trip from Liverpool to Montreal. On 18 April, 1938 she was the first foreign oceangoing vessel to sail past the Montreal harbour clock when the winter freeze-up was over and the thawing of the ice on the river had begun. For this, Captain A. Meikle was awarded the traditional gold-headed cane. During wartime, the Bedford carried military personnel, including 4000 Indian troops and 40 nurses to Singapore in 1941/42, and evacuating 875 women and children from there to Batavia. In 1942, on a voyage to Boston, the Bedford fired upon and sank a U-boat, for which Captain Busk-Wood was later made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). On other occasions the ship came under heavy attack from German bombers, but survived. In 1944 the Bedford left Liverpool with more than 3000 Russian ex-prisoners of war, bound for Basra, from where the ex-prisoners would have been taken by train to Russia. The war ended in 1946 and the Bedford returned to Liverpool from her last trip to Bombay in 1947. She was released from government service and sent to the Clyde to be reconditioned and refurbished before beginning her new life as a passenger ship.

The 32-year old Empress of France was bought in 1960, by the British Iron & Steel Corporation, for scrap. Two features of the ship were saved from the scrap yard. The Empress Bar was dismantled and taken to Glamorgan where it was incorporated in the Barry Hotel in Barry as the Empress Room. In 1961 the ship's bell was presented to Colonel John Wallis, Army Headquarters, Ottawa.

Source: Musk, George. 1981 Canadian Pacific: the story of the famous shipping line.

London; Newton Abbott: David and Charles Publishing

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