The Merchant Navy Association Recommended Reading

The following books are Highly recommended by the Merchant Navy Association. They contain excellent material in pictorial as well as word format. You are sure to find it hard to put either of these books down!


The Harry Callan Story – In 1943, thirty-two Irish POWs refused a Gestapo request to work for Germany. They were sent to a labour camp, where they were starved, beaten and forced to dig the foundations for a Nazi super-structure codenamed Bunker Valentin – an immense U-boat factory. Among them was Harry Callan, a Catholic boy from Derry who went to sea at sixteen as a British Merchant Navy seaman. His ship had been captured by a German raider two years before he ended up at the labour camp.
This is the gripping story of Harry’s capture, resistance and liberation. But above all, it is the final chapter in his quest to honour the forgotten heroes of Bunker Valentin.


Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors

Photographs of your seafaring ancestors may tell you more about their lives than you realise, and Simon Wills’ helpful and practical guide shows you how to identify and interpret the evidence caught on camera. Since maritime roles have been so vital to Britain’s prosperity and military might, they are among the commonest professions depicted in photographs of our ancestors, and this handbook is the ideal introduction to them.

Maybe your ancestor was a seaman in the Royal Navy, a ship’s captain, a steward on an ocean liner, or an officer in the naval reserves? This book shows you how to spot photographic clues to an individual’s career. Whether your ancestor served in the merchant navy or the Royal Navy or in another seagoing role such as a fisherman, a Royal Marine, or even a ship’s passenger, Simon Wills’ book will be your guide.

Dr Simon Wills is a genealogist and journalist and a regular contributor to Family Tree, BBC Who Do You Think You Are?  and other magazines. He writes mainly about maritime history and genealogy, but he also has a special interest in health and disease in the past. He works as an information specialist, writer and advisor to the National Heath Service and other healthcare organisations. His most recent publications are his history of British passengers at sea, Voyages from the Past , and a well-received novel Lifeboatmen.

Although the Merchant Navy suffered a higher percentage loss than any of the Armed Forces of the Crown in the Second World War, few people today are aware of this or have even heard of the MN. Thirty-three thousand merchant seamen died, while others were severely injured both physically and mentally. This book is an attempt to dispel the ignorance, and, for the first time, brings together a wealth of information such as ships’ names, captains, the routes they were lost on, dates and positions when lost, loss of life and hardships endured. Ian Malcolm presents a compendium of shipping company losses that is staggering in scale and will be of great value to shipping enthusiasts and to anyone interested in the war at sea.

Ian M. Malcolm Ian remained a Radio Officer/Purser with Alfred Holt & Co. until September 1951 and his subsequent peacetime voyages are described in Outward Bound, Back to Sea, Via Suez and Last Voyage and Beyond – all in Kindle format. He has also made audio books, details of which can be seen on his website at

LIFE ABOARD A WARTIME LIBERTY SHIP Life Aboard a Wartime Liberty Ship
This is the story of Ian’s entry into the Merchant Navy in July 1943, crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, and his subsequent voyages on the Liberty Ships Samite and Samforth. History books record that the Battle of the Atlantic was won in early 1943, but the Samite was a mere three weeks into her maiden voyage when she was struck by a glider bomb while carrying high explosives. This, however, is not a book describing only enemy attacks on convoys, but is unique in that it gives details of everyday life in the MN at that time, both at sea and in port. 

Describes Ian’s first post-war year in the Merchant Navy, on the Liberty Ship Samnesse, with detailed information about the different countries visited and numerous interesting photographs. Outward Bound is the sequel to “Life Aboard a Wartime Liberty Ship”, published by Amberley and which received excellent reviews.

After a year at Leith Nautical College, Ian returns to sea on the old Blue Funnel ship Atreus which carries Muslim pilgrims to Jeddah on the homeward passage. This is followed by two voyages to the Far East on the Glen Line ship Glengarry and contains numerous photographs.

Describes his third and fourth foreign voyages on the Glengarry followed by coasting her and then numerous other ships to home ports and the Continent with numerous photographs.

A voyage to Australia and Indonesia on the old Blue Funnel ship Deucalion, ex-Glenogle. The ship calls at Melbourne, Brisbane, Port Alma, Townsville and Cairns and the author takes his first flight – to Canberra and Sydney, from Melbourne. Indonesia is approaching anarchy as they travel to various islands collecting copra – a part of the voyage which, although unpleasant, is very interesting. The author leaves the sea and describes his first jobs ashore. With numerous historical photographs, this is the final book in Ian’s post-war Merchant Navy Series.”

The fascinating story, part autobiography, part biography of Captain Stanley Algar. Philip Algar relates the life of his father which covered most of the 20th Century. Stanley born in 1899 in West Hartlepool joined the Boy Scouts then the Sea Scouts, this as Stanley observed in his diary instilled discipline and loyalty. The Scout movement also took him away camping to many places he would not otherwise have visited and taught him many useful skills. In 1915 he joined the Merchant Navy as an Apprentice, although his ships were bombed, mined, torpedoed, and lost in collision he remained at sea and in due course obtained his Masters Certificate. Between the wars he served long periods in the Far East, also suffered, as with many others at that time, unemployment and the subsequent financial hardship. As Master during the 2nd World War his tanker was the first to be bombed from the air.  In March 1941 his ship was sunk by a German Raider, Captain Algar and his crew were captured and shipped to Germany where they spent the next four years as Prisoners of War.  He still managed to keep his diaries recording his life in the POW camp. 
Captain Algar retired from the Shell Tanker Company in 1954, occasionally relieving Masters, then accepting, quote ‘A boring job in the City’, finally retiring in 1965. He Crossed the Bar in June 1992 aged 92.

The authors royalties will be given to the Red Cross, without whose food parcels many British prisoners might have starved to death. Peakpublish, Hassop Station, Bakewell, Derbyshire DE45 1NW ISBN: 978-1-907219-04-7 Price 12.99

MNA Recommended ReadingMNA Recommended Reading

The story of a young boy and his encounter with an old sailor and through his experience he inquires into the ‘Secret of the Sea’ and finds adventure in the yarns and exploits of Gus’s forty years as am ocean sailor.

Complete with 146 nautical photographs and illustrations, British Board of Trade and Swedish certificate books, lyrics to Gus’s favourite sea chanties, CD nautical chart and more.

Ture ‘Gus’ Alfvegren served as a merchant seaman from 1897 to 1936. His ship the T.S.S. Lake Michigan hit a mine in 1916 and was later torpedoed by U-Boat 100 in the North Atlantic in 1918.

Enjoy this wonderful story of a man who ‘exemplified the ideal that there is ‘no institution in which man’s ambition is sooner recognised than in the Naval Services’ Price: $17.95 +$3.50 S&H Order online at

MNA Recommended ReadingUNDER THE RED DUSTER 
The unsung heroes of the North Atlantic, the Arctic seas and other oceans during the war torn years between 1939 and 1945 were, without doubt, the sailors who manned Britain’s merchant ships.

This book contains a collection of some of the most extraordinary incidents that occurred to the ships and men who kept Britain’s vital maritime lifeline open at that difficult time. It describes the hooros of destruction and survival in mid-Atlantic, how lightly armed trawlers and tramp ships took on attacking U-boats – and won – and many other portrayls of the contribution and sacrifices made by the merchant seamen.

Available From Priced £18.99

After finishing Sea School training at Gravesend in Kent; England, in 1938 John Townsend joins his first ship as a “Bellboy”. Describing the grandeur found on a liner to the “Crossing of the Equator” ceremonies, humorous incidents and various promotions he came upon during his time at sea. John goes on to describe how the outbreak of World War 2 affected the various ships he served on, telling where applicable the tragic stories of ships being sunk and many lives being lost. He tells of a Captain who was mugged with tragic consequences and describes all his voyages through “The Battle of The Atlantic” to being on “The Russian Convoys” A wrong diagnosis in a hospital causes John to “Call it a day” and in 1949 he comes ashore to seek his fortune. Feeling very fortunate to survive the six long years of war he recalls the various people he met along the way and some of the wonderful “Shipmates” that were not so fortunate as himself. Available from:


MNA Recommended ReadingEvents during World War Two in the area Mackay to Horn Island, North Queensland (Australia).

This site introduces you to “North Queensland at War” Volume.1, compiled by Peter Nielsen. It chronicles all Allied shipping movements (Merchant Ships and Warships) in North Queensland (Australia) waters from the outbreak of WW2 on 3rd September 1939 to end of 1942.