CLYDEBANK raised their glasses last week to toast the “greatest ship” to ever sail, the Queen Elizabeth II.

A sold-out conference in the town hall marked 50 years of history since the liner was formally named on September 20, 1967 and offered a poignant hint of all that was lost once the Cunard vessel left John Brown’s and the yard swiftly declined towards closure.

After a piper led a special anniversary cake to the stage, delegates toasted the glory of the QE2.

The conference welcomed former passengers and crew to some of the original apprentices from Clydebank who brought so much passion to her engineering.

Amongst congratulations sent in was a letter from David Ryan in the Queen’s private secretary’s office.

It read: “Her Majesty sends her best wishes to all those who will be gathered together for a most memorable and successful programme.”

John Little, treasurer of the QE2 Story – the organisers of the conference – showed off an envelop which once held the closely guarded secret name of the ship as well as shipyard director George Parker’s bowler hat used to wave off the ship – once she eventually started to slowly slip into the Clyde.

He said: “Even in retirement, the popularity of this great liner cannot be underestimated. Clydebank became the mother of an iconic queen.”

Ian MacDougall, who had been involved at John Brown’s on the MV Kungsholm and then the QE2, bumped into his second cousin Alex McDougall whom he’d not seen in years.

While Ian was one of hundreds to work on the QE2, Alex was one of thousands to have sailed on her. The shipyards got about 250 years of work out of the family.

Ian, 80, who now lives in north Argyll, said: “The greatest ship is the next you’re going to build. That’s what the people in Clydebank did at the time – the future of the yard depended on it. It has to be top notch. It motivated people.”

Bankie Alex, also 80, said: “We were on her last refit – it was great and it was spectacular. It was full of a lot of memories from a lot of people. Our daughter was with us and loved ballroom dancing and did it all the time. The food, the preparation, the way they delivered it, was all out of this world.

“The posher bits had gone. My father’s family all worked on it so it was quite a nice thing to sail on her.”

He described how, on the voyage, she was being followed by the much younger Empress of the Sea liner. The captain told passengers he was tired of them following so decided to put some distance between them.

Alex said: “It left this hulk on the horizon in no time at all. It was breathtaking how fast this could go.”

Lynda Bradford, originally from Clydebank, is secretary of the QE2 Story and recalled being able to stand on the liner’s decks a few days after her launch and also getting a tour before she went for sea trials. She and her husband later sailed on the QE2 many times.

She told the Post: “I think the impact of the QE2 is a memory of the shipbuilding heritage for Clydebank. The ship was an international icon built in Clydebank.

“The significance of this conference is we have brought people from the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and across the UK, but also interest from people living in Clydebank.”

Julie and Steven Hando drove their motorhome up from Newport, Wales, to attend. Julie said the crew and everybody on board, as well as the history, made the QE2 something special. The couple – who themselves live on a narrowboat – travelled in 2008 when she was showing some age, but even staying in bunk beds was worth it.

She said: “It had an atmosphere that was part of it. You walked on board and you felt completely at home. If a passenger had been on board before, you could sense they loved the ship.

“We miss the ship so much - we wanted to be here. The lines of it are beautiful – we’re very proud to be here today.”

Husband Steven said after seeing the QE2 depart from Southampton for the last time, they saw her again in 2012 in Dubai.

He said: “I think this conference is brilliant – it’s special. We are fascinated by the QE2. We just felt attached to it. It’s strange – very emotional.”

Aboard the Queen Elizabeth last week, Cunard’s newest vessel, there was a QE2 ball and a retrospective of the QE2’s life as part of celebrations marking the firm’s longest serving liner.

Captain Ian McNaught, the QE2’s last master, was one of the special guests on the voyage and sent a message to the conference.

He said: “This is our chance to remember this much-loved icon of the seas, a ship that really did become a legend in her own lifetime, and to revel in the story of the QE2. Sadly we shall never see the like of her again, so celebrate her story and raise a toast to ‘QE2, the greatest ship in the world’.”