September 3rd is Merchant Navy Day; it was officially formed in 2000, by the UK Government, it is significant to the Merchant Navy because the liner, SS Athenia, was torpedoed within 8 hours of the declaration of Second World War being declared.
This afternoon, I was joined by the Vice Chairman of Huntingdonshire District Council, Cllr Kevin Gulson, and Graham Murray, representing the Royal Naval Association and Seafarers. Wreaths were placed at the Town’s War memorial in memory of those who have served at sea.
Merchant Navy Day honours those seafarers who risk their lives during times of war and peace. During the first and second world wars we saw the combined workforces of the Royal and Merchant Navies keeping our country fed, fuelled, and fit to fight.
The merchant fleet were known as the Mercantile Marine during the First World War; in 1913, Britain imported 80% of its wheat, 50% of its meat and almost 50% of its iron ore. By 1914, 43% of the word’s merchant ships, some 20 million tons gross, was owned and operated by Britain and the Dominions.
With the outbreak of the war, the German Navy believed that if they could stop the trade routes, they would easily win the war, so the submarine became the principle weapon against the mercantile marine. The U-boats were devastating, by 1917 one in four merchant ships leaving Britain would not return due to being lost in enemy action. To counter this, the Admiralty introduced the convoy system in May 1917, placing merchant ships under the protection of the Royal Navy. Sadly, the stats are still shocking, by the end of the war in 1918, 6,924 Allied ships had been sunk, with the loss of around 17,000 merchant seafarers.
The sacrifice of the Mercantile Marine was acknowledged and honoured by HM King George V, who, in 1928 decreed that they would now be known as the Merchant Navy.
During the Second World War, we also saw a loss of lives and merchant navy ships. Around 4,700 British-flagged ships and 35, 000 merchant seamen were lost, this was a greater proportion of the Merchant Navy’s strength than any of the Armed Services.
As a veteran of the Royal Navy, I am proud to have served alongside the Merchant Navy, and I always will be.
We Will Remember Them.