Mark comments on the book’s history:
The origins of the Aquitania book go back almost seven years before it was published, to the spring and summer of 2001. As my interest in Olympic grew, my research into the broader context of the express service prior to World War I developed into a more detailed examination of Aquitania. Olympic was my focus, yet I began to research Aquitania ‘on the side’ as I had the opportunity to do so. In fact, I contemplated that my Olympic history (which I began writing in September 2001) would be an Aquitania history. At that time, I chose to concentrate on Olympic – my personal favourite – but now, with the Aquitania book a reality my early research efforts were not wasted.
As I explained in the book’s introduction:
‘This concise history of the Aquitania is intended to complement previous histories, by focusing on rare and previously unpublished information drawn from a variety of sources. It is in the photographs and illustrations that this book’s greatest strength lies, and I would like to thank everyone who shared material. It is such a gorgeous collection of rare, and visually stunning, images that have made this book what it is.’
There have already been fine studies of the ship’s life – including Neil McCart’s, Les Streater’s, and the wonderfully informative Engineering reprints which were issued with new material by Mark Warren. There would have been little point in merely replicating their efforts. Instead, the focus has been different. The photographs and other illustrations have been chosen specifically for their rarity, while the narrative of Aquitania’s career takes in a number of hitherto-unpublished sources and anecdotes. Certainly, there will be some familiar images within the book’s pages, but a large number of them are rare and have hardly been seen before.
From war diaries, which depict life onboard, to passenger accounts and other material, there is a substantial quantity of new information. The appendices are crammed with data, so that the information is made available but does not detract from the flow of the main text: Aquitania’s technical specifications; passenger numbers; profits made on the express service in comparison with her running mates; her wartime voyages in chronological order; and an extensive list of the men who commanded her.
We see, as Aquitania’s interiors began to take shape after she was launched, that Cunard were concerned that the design for a particular first class public room appeared too similar to one onboard Olympic. It is an interesting detail that highlights their desire to be different, even as they sought to model aspects of their new ship based on their competitors. After the maiden voyage, in the summer of 1914, we also see how Cunard kept an extremely close eye on the new liner and sought to make many improvements based on in-service experience. Again, original material has been used.
Following the war, we follow the success Aquitania experienced as passenger numbers soared; she carried more passengers in 1921 than any of her rivals would in a single year. The intensifying competition, and the fall in passenger numbers in the early 1930s, dealt a harsh setback to the older liners. Yet Aquitania retained her own enthusiastic following, as improvements were made and the times improved in the late 1930s. The changes made over the years have not always received much attention, but they are important and are a product of the changing passenger market. They are outlined in detail, and period deck plans are used to show the ship as she was at various stages of her service.
Even twenty-five years after she entered service, Aquitania was recording speeds on a single day’s run of up to 26 knots, and World War II intervened to extend her life another decade. Anecdotes from her war service enrich the text, and new information and images from the post-war years bring her life to a close.
It is hoped that the final product does justice to Aquitania, complementing previous works and contributing new material to our understanding of her life and times. If you buy the book, I do hope you enjoy it.