Mortimer Hehir joined the Cunard Line in 1937 as Third Officer aboard the cargo ship BANTRIA. She operated out of Liverpool to the Mediterranean.
In 1939 the BANTRIA became one of His Majesty's Transport Vessels. Mortimer Hejir's first major involvement in the war occured in Greek waters in 1941, when troops of Greece and the British Empire were slowly being driven off the mainland by Axis forces. BANTRIA was anchored near Piraeus Harbour, and attracted the attention of a squadron of German bombers. The ship's captain was ashore completing administrative details when the bombing began. Mortimer was effectively in command. Under heavy fire he brought the ship out of the harbor and out of range of the enemy. The BANTRIA then moved to North Africa working out of Alexandria, Port Said, Tobruk and Benghazi.
After almost three years of war service, Mortimer Hehir returned to Britain on Leave. In September, 1942, he obtained his Master's 'ticket' in Liverpool, and was sent to join the QUEEN LIZABETH, which was operating under a regular troop carrying service from New York to Greenock, Scotland. After a year cam a promotion - to first officer of the ASCANIA, a ship destined to carry assault craft and troops to the invasion of Sicily. After Sicily came a similar operation at Anzio beach-head; and D-Day found the ASCANIA at St. Tropez. Later that year, Mortimer Hehir joined the AQUITANIA for further troop-carrying service accross the North Atlantic.
The ship was stopped, and I took the launch away with a crew consisting of Second Officer Warwick, Engineer Officer Mason, one of the ships doctors, and some Able Seamen, four I think. We went away from the ship, up wind, where we laid a smoke trail so the aircraft could see the wind direction on the surface. At that point, as QE2 was vanishing in the drizzle, I did think that if that great ship went bang, we were an awful long way from the nearest land. I remarked on this to our Irish doctor who was in the boat with me, and he answered. "That's OK the nearest land is only one and a half miles away, straight down". That ended that conversation.
In 1946, peacetime service began for Mortimer Hehir on the old FRANCONIA. There was a heavy influx of senior officers whose war service had been spent with the Royal Naval Reserve, and the younger men had to mark time for a period before a promotion became possible. But in 1947, with the rank of Chief Officer, he joined the Cunard Cargo ship FORT MUSQUARRO. Eventually in 1961, he was appointed Chief Officer of the QUEEN MARY. In 1964 he was given command of the ALAUNIA. One of it's chief commisions was transporting whisky from Scotland to New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
In January, 1966 aboard his ship the PARTHIA, they left New York fully laden with copper which is very heavy. Off the Grand Banks, the PARTHIA ran into a full gale and at two in the morning Captain Hehir was woken by a messenger from the bridge: the ship seemed incapable of answering direction. It soon became evident that the rudder had been shorn off in the gale, and the ship was wallowing helplessly in the heavy seas. A U.S. Coastguard vessel stood by for two days, ready for the most extreme of emergencies. The nearest salvage vessel was located in Bermuda, which steamed it's way to the Parthia. She was towed to Southampton - an extremely uncomfortable journey which lasted 13 days.
When QE2 came into service, Captain Hejir was appointed Chief Officer, serving first under Commodore Warwick. Then for four months, in 1970, he commanded the FRANCONIA, until he returned as Staff Captain to QE2, again under Commodore Warwick, and later under Captain Law. In July 1973, following the retirment of Captain Law, Mortimer Hejir succeeded as Master of QE2.
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