Merchant Navy Association

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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.

Venue Type:

Association or society

Opening hours

Office hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1200; 1400-1700.

Admission charges

Not applicable.

Events details are listed below. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all. For events that don't have a specific date see the 'Resources' tab above.
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Merchant Navy Day

  • 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. This, by such as local authorities and port operators from the Shetland Islands to Falmouth and from Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast to Ceredigion and Great Yarmouth. In London, it includes the Department for Transport headquarters; HMS Belfast and 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.

In the First World War, the task of what was known then as the Mercantile Marine was to keep Britain fed, fuelled and fighting. By 1913, Britain imported 80% of its wheat, 50% of its meat and nearly 50% of its 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 such that by April 1917, one in four merchant ships leaving Britain was not returning in being lost to enemy action. This forced HM Government to realise that Britain would have to capitulate within six months. In turn, this finally compelled the Admiralty and shipowners to introduce 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. It changed the outcome of the War. Nonetheless, 6,924 Allied ships, almost 13 million tons gross, had been sunk with the loss of some 17,000 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 and the only civilians so decorated in the War, Captain Parslow was also the 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’. What is now the First World War section of the national Merchant Navy Memorial on London's Tower Hill was unveiled by HM Queen Mary and similarly in 1928, the King instituted and conferred upon Edward, Prince of Wales, the title of ‘Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets’. The appointment is held now by HM The Queen.

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.’

Britain's war effort 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 35,000 merchant seamen had died, a greater proportion of the Merchant Navy's strength than of any of the Armed Services.

Suitable for

  • Any age



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Merchant Navy Day Service

  • 9 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, Merchant Navy Day, or on that day if a Sunday. 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.

A Royal Marine Band accompanies the Service which 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 marking its centenary, from 2014 to 2018 the readings relate to actions in the First World War.

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 of 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 the MNA at or 01472 851130.

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, e-mail or contact 023 8051 5950. While offering this service without charge, donations are appreciated by the Sailors’ Society, a charity registered in England & Wales, no. 237778;

Suitable for

  • Any age


Merchant Navy Memorial
Trinity Square Gardens
Tower Hill

Getting there

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. Step-free access from July 2016.
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
National Office
9 Saxon Way
Market Rasen



National Secretary


Mon-Fri 0900-1200; 1400-1700

01472 851130

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.