All those who served in  the Merchant Navy in 1914-1918 will be commemorated by a Service at the Merchant Navy national memorial on Tower Hill in London at 1230 on Sunday 7th 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 fleet 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 also its oldest recipient in the First World War.  The only other civilian recipient in the War was another Mercantile Marine master.

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, 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, held annually on the Sunday following Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September, the anniversary of the start of the Second World War. In tribute, Red Ensigns will be flown from the Department for Transport headquarters in Horseferry Road, London SW1, and from Tower Bridge. The latter is an honour shared with only the Union Flag and White Ensign.