Fly the Red Ensign for Merchant Navy Day today to commemorate 100 years of the Merchant Navy

Following many years of lobbying to bring about official recognition of the sacrifices made by merchant seafarers in the two world wars.
The slogan is ‘ Fly the Red Ensign for Merchant Navy Day – 3rd September’
Since 2000, Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September has honoured the brave men and women who kept our ‘island nation’ afloat during both World Wars, and celebrated our dependence on modern day merchant seafarers who are responsible for 95% of the UK’s imports.
Why 3rd September? –  This date marks the sinking of the Merchant Navy ship – S.S. Athenia in WWII – the very first casualty of the war – torpedoed by a German U-Boat, with the loss of 128 lives, within 10 hours of the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, by Neville Chamberlain and the outbreak of  World War II. The Merchancy Navy Asscociation aims to ensure the recognition of the Merchant Navy Veterans and the critical and strategic role of the Merchant Navy in times of war and conflict. The Red Ensign flag or “Red Duster” as it is affectionately known, is the recognised flag of the British Merchant Navy and has been flown by British merchant and passenger ships since 1854.

As per my post here, to commemorate 100 years of the Merchant Navy, and in remembrance of all those from various countries throughout the world that served in the Merchant Navy and who lost their lives during wars, conflicts and campaigns, Merchant Navy  Locomotive 35006 ‘Peninsular & Oriental SN Co’ will be running today on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Steam Railway on Merchant Navy Day.

The headboard carried by 35006 to commemorate those in the Merchant Navy who fell during two World Wars and in subsequent conflicts (Andrew Marshall)

She was be suitably decorated for the day with a specially commissioned ‘Merchant Navy’ headboard (see left) and flying the Red Ensign flags for the occasion. The day started with a brief remembrance service at 9.30 am for members of the Merchant Navy Association, at Toddington station, before pulling the 10am departure for Cheltenham.

The Merchant Navy was formally known as the Mercantile Marine in the First World War.  During both world wars, Germany operated a policy of ‘unrestricted submarine warfare’, or sinking merchant vessels on sight. By the end of the First World War, more than 3,000 British flagged merchant and fishing vessels had been sunk and nearly 15,000 merchant seamen had died.

Following their service in the First World War, King George V bestowed the title of “Merchant Navy” on the British merchant shipping fleets, in 1928 he gave Edward, Prince of Wales the title of “Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets”, more recently this title has been held by our current Queen Elizabeth II.

When the United Kingdom and the British Empire 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”.

Britain’s merchant fleet was the largest in the world during both world wars. In 1939, a third of the world’s merchant ships were British, and there were some 200,000 sailors. Many merchant seamen came from parts of the British Empire, such as India, Hong Kong and west African countries.
During the Second World War, 4,700 British-flagged ships were sunk.  German U-boats alone sank over 2,800 Allied ships. The United Kingdom alone suffered the loss of over 2,200 ships, which was 54% of the total Merchant Navy fleet at the outbreak of the Second World War.  32,000 merchant seafarers 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 Southern Railway Bullied Merchant Navy Class first built under wartime conditions in 1941 recognised the role of the Merchant Navy with all eventual 30 members of the class being named after the shipping lines and carried distinctive nameplates that included the flags of the shipping lines within. The c;lass were built with many Bullied novel features inclding chain driven valve gear encased within an oil bath and charatoristic air smoothed casing and Buleid-Firth-Bron wheels.  All examples of the Merchant Navy class were rebuilt along more conventional lines, with 35006 and 35028 Clan Line being the last two examples to be modified in 1959.
No. 11, 35011 is curently being ambitiously reurned to original condition by the General Steam Navigation Society of which, like for No.6, I am also  Sharehlder.

Although this post has given me the chance to share a few pictures of Bulleid Merchant Navy class locomotives and models, it is primarily to recognise and commemorate the sacrifices made on our behalf by merchant seafarers ‘We Will Remember Them’.

4 thoughts on “Fly the Red Ensign for Merchant Navy Day today to commemorate 100 years of the Merchant Navy

  1. Those casualty figures make for sombre reading indeed. I can’t imagine the horror of being torpedoed while serving one’s country amidst the vast ocean. Bless their memory.

Leave a Reply