• Paul Curtis

The Nieuw Amsterdam Gets New Lease of Life


As a former entertainment’s officer aboard the RMS Queen Mary, I was saddened by the fact that the British Government appeared to go out of its way to make the retention of its Cunard Queens of the Atlantic as difficult as possible.

Up until the Sixties, the prestigious Europe to USA run was the battle ground for national pride as to who had the greatest liners. Known as ships of state. The Dutch had the Nieuw Amsterdam, the French had the Normandie, (later the France) and the British had the Queen Mary.

When the airlines began destroying the sea crossings in the mid-sixties, many governments stepped in to help their proud ships carry. The British Government not only wouldn’t do this, but it also prevented Cunard from running its own airline business so that it couldn’t offer fly-cruise Transatlantic crossings. Instead, much later Cunard had to go into a cooperative venture with BOAC.

I knew the Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam well. Although the Lakonia was my first ship, just before the Lakonia’s fatal fire, I was transferred from the Lakonia as a Number Four photographer to the Nieuw Amsterdam to be a Number Three photographer. I thought it a fast promotion as the Dutch ship was bigger, very famous and the pride of Holland in the competition for the North Atlantic crossing trade. It was only when I got on board my new ship that I discovered there were only three photographers. So, I was still at the bottom, but just under a smaller heap!

After the super-relaxed atmosphere of the Lakonia, the discipline on board was a bit of a shock. However, is spite of the strict attention to protocol, the Dutch officers and crew, when off duty, really knew how to let their hair down. There were even wilder timers than on the Lakonia. And I had thought the Dutch were a staid lot. Wrong. I must write a book about it one day!

Anyway, before I digress into potentially litigious tales of life on board, back to my point at issue. The Nieuw Amsterdam was the pride of Holland, just like the Queen Mary was the pride of Britain. Both ships had newer running mates: the Queen Elizabeth for Cunard and the Rotterdam for Holland America.

While Cunard, unsupported by its government, was forced to sell its Queens while in full running order, Holland America line discovered a problem with the Nieuw Amsterdam: her boilers were gone. No, the Dutch did not scrap her. Instead they cut a gaping great hole in the hull and installed replacement boilers. This was major surgery indeed, but with a new lease of life, she continued until 1974.

How different the treatment by the Dutch to that meted out to the Queens.

Thanks to the Americans, the Mary lives on. In a slightly mummified state, she can still be seen at Long Beach California. And it is also thanks to the Americans, that Cunard can to this day carry on its long traditions.

Photo: Photographer unknown but used as a postcard on board.