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March 31, 2011
A 92 YEAR-OLD who returned from
WWII known as 'the Man who Saved
Queen Mary' was guest of honour
aboard her successor on February 23 at
the Royal Rendezvous in Sydney of the
luxury liners Queen Mary 2 and Queen
Former RAAF pilot FLGOFF Cyril
Burcher was flying an 86SQN RAF
Coastal Command Liberator on a con-
voy escort over the North Atlantic on
June 12, 1943, when the crew sighted a
They immediately attacked the
boat but, after an exchange of gunfire,
lost it in a rain squall. They were sur-
prised that the boat refused to dive but,
emerging from the squall, they could
Only about 6Nm ahead of the
boat was the troopship and con-
verted ocean liner Queen Mary with
1500 troops embarked. Adolf Hitler
had offered a substantial sum to
any U-boat commander who could
sink her (and the Queen Elizabeth)
as they rarely travelled in convoy,
relying on their high speed to avoid
attack. The submarine was sitting in
"When we came out of the squall,
I was amazed to find Queen Mary
right below us and she was heading
straight toward the waiting U-boat,"
Mr Burcher said.
"We signalled the Queen Mary [by
Aldis lamp] and even before we had
finished sending the message she had
turned 90 degrees to starboard at 36
knots. It was something to see, I can
"If we hadn't been there, Queen
Mary would have gone straight
towards the U-boat and she was
already nearly in torpedo range as it
With the ship safely out of harm's
way, the Liberator turned her attention
back to the U-boat; it had submerged.
For his action Burcher received the
Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war, in 1948, the then
FLTLT Burcher met the Queen Mary's
captain at the time, CDRE Sir James
Bissett, in Sydney. Sir James congrat-
ulated him on his actions and wrote
THE spectacular visit to Sydney
of Cunard Line's new luxury liners
Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth
revived powerful memories of an
earlier wartime Royal Rendezvous
in Sydney when their predecessors,
the liners Queen Mary and Queen
Elizabeth, met at the Heads on April
Known as the 'Grey Ghosts'
because of their naval colour
schemes, the two ships were
converted to become troop ships
during WWII. Their passengers
included 450SQN members who
"Many thanks and good luck" in his
pilot's log book.
The Royal Rendezvous event on
February 23 commemorated a previous
rendezvous on April 9, 1941, when the
two ships' predecessors had met off
Sydney heads while engaged on troop
The day included a
remembrance service and
wreath-laying, and lunch for
several Australian WWII vet-
erans who had sailed aboard
those two ships.
Air Commander Australia
AVM Mark Skidmore, who attended
the event, said "it was a special day
and it was great to speak with Cyril
Burcher and hear his stories".
Cunard Line president and manag-
ing director of the Royal Rendezvous,
Peter Shanks, said Mr Burcher had
made a remarkable contribution when
he saved Queen Mary from almost cer-
It was not FLTLT Burcher's only
2 in Sydney
encounter with submarines during the
36 Liberator missions he flew.
On April 6, 1943, he surprised
and sunk U-632 and later the same
day attacked another U-boat with his
remaining depth charges.
Then, on October 18 the same
year, he was involved in an attack
on U-643 in an extended action that
resulted in that boat and U-419 being
Wartime reunion brings back memories
BACK ON BOARD:
450SQN on the Queen
Elizabeth on April 10,
1941.Photo courtesy 450SQN
by the captain
of Queen Mary,
were aboard Queen Mary during
the historic meeting.
Australian veterans, who sailed
to war on the two converted liners,
were honoured at a remembrance
service and a lunch in tribute
on board Queen Mary 2 after she
berthed alongside at Garden Island.
Now in their late 80s or early 90s, the
veterans are among the thousands of
Australian soldiers, airmen and Army
nurses who were transported on the
liners to campaigns in the Middle
East and Singapore.
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