BACK in 1953 a young mum-to-be was travelling back home to Canada on Cunard's Southampton ship, Ascania, when her baby son decided he could not wait for the vessel to dock and was born as the liner sailed down the St Lawrence River.

Now, more than half a century later, James Gould is living in County Down, Northern Ireland and he constantly carries with him a reminder of the day he entered the world on board the ship.

"When I was born the doctor asked my late mother, Jean, what she wanted to call me. She said James, and that she would also give me the middle name of Ascania, as she had given birth on the liner,'' said James, whose home is in the town of Comber.

"The ship's doctor replied, 'Thank goodness it was not Queen Mary'.

"I am proud of my name, and I would love to know if there was anyone else born on the ship, as I seem to remember my mother saying there had been other babies,'' James said.

Due to his personal connection with Ascania, James has always been interested in the history of the ship and he even has a poster of the vessel on the wall of his home to remind him of the time his mother and father were travelling back to Nova Scotia.

"I lived in Canada until I was 11 but when my father died we moved back to Northern Ireland,'' said James.

"Of course, I don't remember anything about the ship, but I have tried to find out as much as possible."

The 14,000-ton Ascania was one of the shipping line's best known vessels on the Canadian passenger service and served for a total of 31 years in both peace and war.

Built by Vickers-Armstrong on the Tyne, she was one of a fleet of six liners which Cunard ordered to build up their services after the First World War.

Her sister ships, Antonia, Ausonia, Aurania and Alaunia, were all taken over as repair ships by the Admiralty. Andania was sunk by a torpedo in 1940, so that Ascania became the only one to resume commercial service after the Second World War.

Ascania, which came out in 1925, had accommodation for about 520 first-class passengers and 1,000 tourist-class. She had a number of portable cabins which could be erected in the 'tween decks for use by emigrants, mostly Europeans, on outward voyages.

The ship called at Southampton en route to Quebec and Montreal during the summer, and to Halifax and New York when the St Lawrence was frozen during the winter.

She began the Second World War as an armed merchant cruiser and was employed in escorting convoys from Canada and Bermuda to the Western Approaches.

During this time, she accompanied about 1,000 ships without loss.

In October 1941, Ascania was sent to the Thornycroft yard in Southampton, where she was turned into an infantry landing craft.

She was the second largest vessel to enter Southampton after its reopening following the Blitz.

In her new role Ascania took part in the Sicily invasion in 1943, the Anzio landings in 1944 and the southern France landings later that year.

In December 1947, Ascania returned to commercial service and for many months she was the only Cunard passenger ship in the Canadian trade.

The liner completed her career with a short trooping charter during the Suez crisis, and was broken up in 1956 in Wales.