Merchant Navy WW1 Tribute – 7 September

All those who served in the Merchant Navy in 1914-1918 will be commemorated by a Service at the national Merchant Navy memorial on Tower Hill in London at 1230 on Sunday 7 September 2014.

In this centenary year, the First World War memorial will be the focal point for the Service in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill, London EC3. It bears the names of 11,541 members of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets for whom there is no grave but the sea, listed with the names of the 1,458 vessels from which they were lost.

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 industry’s output to the world.

In the war, the Imperial German Navy saw cutting the trade routes as the means to victory, expressed by Admiral Reinhard Scheer, Commander-in-Chief of the High Seas Fleet, as ‘Our aim was to break the power of mighty England vested in her sea trade’. For this, the submarine 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, and at the cost of 178 boats and their 5,000 crew members, German U-boats had sunk 6,924 Allied ships, almost 13 million tons gross, with the loss of more than 14,000 merchant seafarers by the end of the war in 1918.

The Service will include the reading of a first-hand account of U-boat attack in 1915 on a British merchant ship which resulted in its master being awarded posthumously the Victoria Cross. This was the first time the VC had been awarded to a civilian, in this case its oldest recipient in the First World War, he being Captain Frederick Parslow, born in Islington. The War’s other civilian recipient was also a Mercantile Marine master, Captain Archibald Smith from Aberdeen, following a 1917 U-boat attack.

HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prime Minister, The Rt Hon David Cameron MP, will contribute addresses to the Service. Together with veteran and serving members of the Merchant Navy, relatives and friends, it will be attended by representatives of the shipping industry and Royal Navy, including the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas. Present too will be Admiral The Rt Hon the Lord West of Spithead, the National Patron of the Merchant Navy Association which organises the Service.

Wreaths will be laid – including by Seafarers UK’s Director General Commodore Barry Bryant CVO RN – followed by the planting in the memorials’ lawn of miniature red ensigns, the flag of the British Merchant Navy, in individual acts of remembrance.

All are welcome at the Service, that is held annually on the Sunday following Merchant Navy Day on 3 September, the anniversary of the start of the Second World War.


Media Information:

For further information or to attend the Service please contact Captain John Sail, National Chairman of the Merchant Navy Association, email:, phone 07739 380717, or Donna Creasey, phone 01205 460917.

Notes to Editors:

1.       There are two other Merchant Navy memorials in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill. The Second World War memorial carries the names of 23,832 members of the Merchant Navy, Fishing Fleets, Lighthouse, Pilotage and Steam Services for whom there is no known grave but the sea and which lists the 2,174 vessels from which they were lost. The Falklands Campaign memorial records 17 names and their four ships. All three memorials are in the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

2.       The First World War memorial, unveiled by Queen Mary in 1928, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, as were the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval in Belgium, amongst others.

3.       The title ‘Merchant Navy’ was bestowed upon the Mercantile Marine by HM King George V in 1928 in honour of its service and sacrifice during the First World War. In the same year, the King appointed Edward, Prince of Wales, ‘Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets’, a title now held by HM The Queen.

(The above content was kindly provided by Roger Hoefling, phone 020 7289 8836).

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