Merchant Navy Association
The Merchant Navy Association represents the interests of past and present British merchant seafarers. As part of this, it commemorates those who served in the two World Wars and other conflicts at services held by its branches throughout the UK around the time of Merchant Navy Day which is on 3rd September each year. Services are held too in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The principal service takes place annually at the national Merchant Navy Memorial in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill in London EC3 on the Sunday immediately following Merchant Navy Day. In the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the three memorials there bear the 35,395 names of those from the First and Second World Wars together with the Falklands Campaign for whom there is no known grave but the sea.
Details of Merchant Navy Day and the annual Service at the national Merchant Navy Memorial in London on the following Sunday are given in the ‘Events’ section of this entry.
Services also take place on 3rd September annually at each of the 38 Merchant Navy Association branches across the UK:-
Aberystwyth; Axe Vale; Barnsley; Belfast; Boston & South Lincs; Bristol; Caithness; Dormanstown & Redcar; Dumfries; East Lothian; Exeter; Felixstowe; Harrogate; Immingham; Ipswich; Kent; London & Greater London; Mansfield & Ashfield; Medway; Midlands; Morecambe Bay; Newport; Pill & North Somerset; Plymouth & SW MSA; Ribble Valley; Salford; Scarborough; Solent; Tamworth; Taunton; Tilbury; Torbay; Walton-on-the-Naze; Western Isles; West Norfolk; Weymouth, Portland & District; Wirral; Wolverhampton. There are branches also in Nigeria and Singapore.
The Merchant Navy Association is a charity registered in England & Wales, number 1135661.
Association or society
Office hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1200; 1400-1700.
Merchant Navy Day
- 3 September 2015
- 3 September 2016
- 3 September 2017
- 3 September 2018
Merchant Navy Day was established in 2000 by HM Government and is on 3rd September each year, the anniversary of the start of the Second World War. While the Red Ensign, the flag of the British Merchant Navy, flies permanently over the national Merchant Navy Memorial in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill in London EC3, it is flown in tribute that day on public and maritime buildings across the UK. In London, that includes the Department for Transport headquarters in Horseferry Road SW1; on HMS Belfast and from Tower Bridge. The latter is an honour shared with only the Union Flag and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy; in fact, two are flown from the Bridge. The Red Ensign also flies permanently over the Merchant Navy Memorial on Tower Hill in London.
SECOND WORLD WAR
The Second World War began on 3rd September 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany following its invasion of Poland. Around 8½ hours later, the first British merchant ship, the liner SS Athenia, was torpedoed by a submarine west of Ireland. The last was sunk on 7th May 1945, 1¼ hours before VE-Day, it being the SS Avondale Park, a cargo ship, torpedoed off the Firth of Forth.
That first attack began the Battle of the Atlantic which became the longest continuous campaign of the Second World War. Prime Minister Winston Churchill described it as ‘… the dominating factor all through the War. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air depended ultimately on its outcome.’
Keeping Britain fed, fuelled and fighting relied on merchant ships, escorted by those of the Royal and Allied Navies, bringing supplies from across the North and South Atlantic. In the convoys, the Merchant Navy’s civilian seamen were in the front-line alongside their naval counterparts in facing enemy submarines, mines, surface ships and aircraft while always at the mercy of sea and weather. Unescorted, the odds against merchant ships were even greater and thus so were the losses. By the end of the Second World War, with some 4,700 British-flagged ships sunk, more than 29,000 merchant seamen had died.
FIRST WORLD WAR
In the First World War, the task of what was known then as the Mercantile Marine was no different. By 1913, Britain imported 80% of its wheat, 50% of its meat and nearly 50% of its pig iron ore. In 1914, 43% of the world’s merchant ships, some 20 million tons gross, was owned and operated by Britain and the Dominions. Keeping Britain in business, those ships brought in food and raw materials, exporting its industry’s output to the world. In the War, the Imperial German Navy saw cutting the trade routes as the means to victory. For this, the submarine, the U-boat, became Germany’s principal weapon and it was not countered until the full introduction of the convoy system in May 1917, grouping merchant ships under the protection of naval escorts for passage across the North and South Atlantic in particular. Nonetheless, 6,924 Allied ships, almost 13 million tons gross, had been sunk with the loss of more than 14,000 merchant seafarers by the end of the War in 1918.
For their valour in separate actions in 1915 and 1917 respectively, the Mercantile Marine captains, Frederick Parslow and Archibald Smith, were awarded the Victoria Cross. For this, the Admiralty commissioned them posthumously in 1919 as Lieutenants in the Royal Naval Reserve, avoiding the difficulty of elevating the merchant service to the level of the Royal Navy. The only Mercantile Marine members so decorated, Captain Parslow was the first civilian and oldest recipient in the War of the VC.
Such was the service and sacrifice of the Mercantile Marine during the First World War that HM King George V decreed in 1928 that it should be known as the ‘Merchant Navy’. In the same year, the King instituted and conferred upon Edward, Prince of Wales, the title of ‘Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets’, an appointment now held by HM The Queen.
- Any age
Merchant Navy Day Service
- 6 September 2015 12:30-2:30pm
- 4 September 2016 12:30-2:30pm
- 3 September 2017 12:30-2:30pm
- 2 September 2018 12:30-2:30pm
The principal Merchant Navy Day Service is held annually at the national Merchant Navy Memorial in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill in London EC3 on the Sunday immediately following 3rd September each year, Merchant Navy Day. A multi-faith service, it is organised by the Merchant Navy Association. In the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the three memorials there bear the 35,395 names of those merchant seamen from the First and Second World Wars together with the Falklands Campaign for whom there is no known grave but the sea.
The Service includes the reading of a first-hand account, different on each occasion, of an action involving a ship and its crew named on the Memorial. In the five years to 2018, the readings will come from the First World War period as part of its centenary commemorations.
Together with veteran and serving members of the Merchant Navy, their relatives and friends, the Service is attended by representatives of the shipping industry, Commonwealth High Commissions, Embassies, Royal Navy, Trinity House, maritime organisations, seafarers’ charities and more as well as the standard bearers of branches of the Merchant Navy Association; Royal Fleet Auxiliary Association; Royal Naval Association; Royal British Legion; Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Sea Cadets.
Wreaths are laid at each memorial, followed by the planting in the Memorial’s lawn of miniature Red Ensigns, the flag of the Merchant Navy, in individual acts of remembrance or support for those currently serving.
The attendance of members of the public at the Service is welcomed.
The Merchant Navy Association organises wreaths for those attending the Service, laying them too on behalf of those unable to be present. For details, contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01472 851130.
'SEA OF REMEMBRANCE'
The ‘Sea of Remembrance’ is formed of miniature Red Ensigns planted by the Sailors’ Society which, on request, adds a personal dedication to the reverse of each flag. To apply, contact at ABrogan@sailors-society.org or 023 8051 5950. While offering this without charge, donations are appreciated by the Sailors’ Society, a charity registered in England & Wales, no. 237778; http://www.sailors-society.org/
- Any age
Merchant Navy Memorial
Trinity Square Gardens
Bus: 15 Trafalgar Square - Blackwall
42 Liverpool Street Station- Denmark Hill
78 Shoreditch - Nunhead
RV1 Covent Garden - Tower Gateway
Underground: Circle or District line to Tower Hill
DLR: Tower Gateway
National Rail: Fenchurch Street; Liverpool Street
London River Services: Tower Pier
Free. Trinity Square Gardens open at 8am and close 30 mins before dusk each day.
Merchant Navy Association
9 Saxon Way
Mon-Fri 0900-1200; 1400-1700