The Queen came to say a final farewell to one of the great icons of her reign, the Southampton liner, Queen Elizabeth 2, and to leave a simple, but lasting, message: "Thanks for the memories.'' One greatly loved Queen made the special visit to another, much admired Queen, so bringing to an end a relationship that had stretched across four decades.

The Queen's arrival on the city dockside yesterday signalled the beginning of the end for QE2. Over the coming months the liner will be saying a long-goodbye as the days, and weeks tick away to Tuesday, November 11, when she leaves Southampton, her home for nearly 40 years, never to return.

Although the day was tinged with sadness, the ship's officers and crew were determined it would also be full of pride, and tradition but above all, one that would celebrate the unique and remarkable story of QE2.

Despite her advancing years, QE2 was a magnificent sight alongside her usual berth in the city's Eastern Docks. It was as if the ship knew that this was one day she had to look her best and the grand old dame of the sea carried it off with aplomb.

For the Queen it was the chance to pay a personal and affectionate tribute to the ship she launched so many years ago while at the same time to officially recognise, on behalf of the country, a liner unequalled in maritime history.

Click HERE for a gallery of The Queen on QE2

With the Queen to acknowledge QE2's unique role was former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher who ,during her time in Downing Street ordered the liner to be transformed into a troopship and join the South Atlantic task force to recapture the Falkland Islands in 1982.

It was a day of emotion and memories for the Queen but, for her, the date was also heavy with nostalgia as it marked another historic occasion which had taken place on June 2, 1953.

Exactly 55 years earlier the country had come to a standstill as, amid the full panoply of a great ceremony of state, the then young, new monarch was crowned Queen.

The importance of this anniversary was not forgotten as the Queen was presented with a bouquet of 55 red roses, one flower for each year since the Coronation, by QE2's executive housekeeper, Roz Price Evans, the longest serving female member of the crew.

One of the most memorable moments came when the Queen unveiled a large painting by the renowned marine artist Robert Lloyd depicting QE2 taking her leave from Southampton to begin her one-way voyage to Dubai.

The painting of QE2 flying her long, trailing paying-off pennant - traditionally the same length of the ship plus one foot for every year of service - will later be presented to the people of Southampton as a lasting reminder of the great Cunarder.

Although many years have passed since her launch in an earlier century, the ship is still criss-crossing the oceans and remains the fastest and most powerful passenger vessel afloat, able to leave all modern cruise ships in her wake as her hull, emblazoned with the name of Southampton, disappears over the horizon.

Fresh from a recent refit in Southampton, QE2 had never looked better with her distinctive Cunard livery in pristine and immaculate condition, rich woodwork was polished to perfection, while an army of white-gloved Cunard stewards glided between the 300 specially invited guests with silver salvers of champagne and canapes.

Compared to modern cruise ships, which are more like vast floating holiday resorts able to carry thousands of passengers, QE2, despite her age, still remains a unassailable symbol of impeccable style, unashamed luxury and fine taste that modern vessels can only pretend to imitate.

The Queen was initially greeted by Cunard president and managing director, Carol Marlow, who escorted the Royal party on board and into the ship's lobby where she was welcomed by QE2's last ever masters, Captain Ian MacNaught and Captain David Perkins.

Among those presented to the Queen were nine former masters of QE2 including Captain Peter Jackson who was in command during the Falklands crisis.

In the Officers' Wardroom another small part of the liner's life came to an end when the Queen was invited to sign the ship's visitors' book. Hers was the first name on the first page, recalling the day of the ship's launch, and now this same signature was written on the last page.

After a reception in the Queen's Room, the liner's ballroom named after the monarch, guests joined the Queen for a gala lunch prepared in the vessel's galley by QE2's famed brigade of chefs.

As the Queen stepped off the ship and gazed up at her decks for the last time, passengers began embarking for a cruise that will take QE2 north to Norway and the Land of the Midnight Sun.

QE2's final Royal occasion had ended and it was time for her to head out to sea again where she remains, for the time being, the true monarch of the waves.