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Forces War Records Blog

MERCHANT NAVY DAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2017

'Fly the Red Ensign' for Merchant Navy Day
'Fly the Red Ensign' for Merchant Navy Day

On Merchant Navy Day, 3 Sept 2017, the Red Ensign will be flown ashore to raise awareness of our dependence as an island nation on our past, present and future Merchant Navy seafarers.

King George V bestowed the title of "Merchant Navy" on the British merchant shipping fleets following their service in the First World War. During this conflict around 7,759,090 tons and around 14,661 merchant seafarers were killed.

When the UK entered the Second World War in September 1939 George VI issued this message:

In these anxious days I would like to express to all Officers and Men and in The British Merchant Navy and The British Fishing Fleets my confidence in their unfailing determination to play their vital part in defence. To each one I would say: Yours is a task no less essential to my people's experience than that allotted to the Navy, Army and Air Force. Upon you the Nation depends for much of its foodstuffs and raw materials and for the transport of its troops overseas. You have a long and glorious history, and I am proud to bear the title "Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets". I know that you will carry out your duties with resolution and with fortitude, and that high chivalrous traditions of your calling are safe in your hands. God keep you and prosper you in your great task.

In the Second World War German U-boats sank approximately 2,828 ships, which cost the lives of 32,000 merchant seafarers who were killed aboard convoy vessels in the war, but along with the Royal Navy, the convoys successfully imported enough supplies to allow an Allied victory.

The 3rd September was adopted as Merchant Navy Day in 2000. This date in 1939 marked the outbreak of the Second World War when the merchant ship SS Athenia was torpedoed and sunk, with the loss of 128 passengers and crew.

For Merchant Navy Day this year, the Red Ensign will be flown ashore at more than 600+ locations across the UK, in response to a campaign by the maritime welfare charity Seafarers UK to raise public awareness of our island nation’s ongoing dependence on those who work at sea.

Flag-hoisting ceremonies are being planned by many local authorities and councils – see the ‘Roll of Honour’ at www.merchantnavyfund.org/ The Red Ensign will also be flying on many historic buildings, especially in Scotland where Merchant Navy Day is on the Scottish Government’s official list of flag-flying days.

So let's hoist the flag to all those who braved the waves and the enemy during both world wars.

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‘For All Seafarers’

Even in peace, scant quiet is the sea,

In war each revolution of the screw,

Each breath of air that blows the colours free,

May be the last life moment known to you,

 

Death thrusting down may disunite,

Spirit from body, purpose from the hull,

With thunder bringing leaving of the light,

With lightening letting nothingness annul.

 

No rock, no danger, bears a warning sign,

No lighthouse scatters welcome through the dark,

Above the sea, the bomb; afloat, the mine;

Beneath the gangs of the torpedo shark.

 

Year after year, with insufficient guard,

Often with none, have you adventured thus,

Some reaching harbour, maimed and battle scarred,

Some never more returning lost to us.

 

But if you ‘scape, tomorrow you will steer

To peril once again, to bring us bread,

To dare again, beneath the sky of fear,

The moon-moved graveyard of your brothers dead.

 

You were salvation to the army lost,

Trapped, but for you, upon the Dunkirk beach,

Death barred the way to Russia, but you crossed;

To Crete and Malta, but you succoured each.

 

Unrecognised you put us in your debt,

Unthanked, you enter, or escape the grave;

Whether your land remember or forget

You saved the land, or died to try to save

 

John Masefield

 

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