History of The Merchant Navy Association
Looking for Recognition
Our Association came ‘off the slipway’ in August 1989 and the first branch was established in Birmingham by two WWII veterans, Fred Harrell and Barry Osborne. Within a few months new groups established Branches in Exeter and Plymouth. Those founding members, in those newly formed branches began to raise awareness of the Merchant Navy and in particular the dedication and commitment of merchant seafarers during war and conflict. They remembered the unrecognised and as yet unsung service to the nation of thousands of Merchant Navy Veterans. They also gave voice to concerns that many seafarers felt somewhat overlooked and forgotten when the laurels and accolades were being bestowed after WWII. If those ‘under command’ during wartime campaigns had waited as long for Merchant Navy ships and seafarers to join them in such places as the North Atlantic, Western Approaches, Korea and the Falklands as it took for the Armed Services to invite them to the Cenotaph and government to acknowledge their contribution then there may well have been no national Service of Remembrance to attend.
A Merchant Navy Standard was introduced and members began to take part in parades and official events. Great credit must go to all our early ‘pioneers’ who were so resolute in their need for wider understanding and recognition. Some were totally incensed with the perceived ingratitude of HM Government as one in four merchant seafarers lost their lives…their friends and comrades in wartime. Great credit also to the veterans from HM Forces who supported our MN Veterans in their campaigns, many remembering the wonderful support they received and their sacrifice in achieving the freedoms we all now enjoy. The role of the Merchant Navy and its seafarers had been undervalued and mainly unacknowledged for far, far too many years of. (Of course that was in 1989 and much has now changed).
More branches ‘signed-up’ to the objectives detailed in the newly agreed MNA Constitution. A national consensus of seafarer’s views was coalesced into agreed policy initiatives such as official recognition to march to the London Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and a UK Merchant Navy Day.
Underway and Making Way
The MNA’s campaigns were being heard in both local and national government as more seafarers in more branches saw the benefit of a national movement and what could be achieved by all seafarers working together…something we did at sea to progress our passage and safely load and safely discharge our cargoes all over the world. New branches in Bristol, Newport, Swansea, London, Immingham and the Liverpool area introduced more seagoing and retired seafarers who had a range of experiences and former contacts that further promoted what was now an accepted national consensus of the seafaring community.
Clearly presented arguments finally led the Royal British Legion to change their previously held views and to ‘officially’ accept the role merchant seafarers and the command structure of wartime convoys. For the first time, in the year 2000, Merchant Navy Veterans marched behind the Royal Navy in Column E and the Merchant Navy wreath was proudly laid at the Cenotaph. The wreath, with its unique MN design, joined the ‘Red Duster’ which had been displayed at the Cenotaph since the memorial was dedicated.
Also in 2000 HM Government approved the 3rd September as Merchant Navy Day. There were a number of organisations campaigning for a Merchant Navy Day and not all agreed with the commemorative concept or the date proposed by the MNA. However, the MNA’s campaign was well received by the then Labour Government and both the commemorative and future prospects of merchant seafarers remain important elements of the Service.
The 3rd September 1939 was the day that the SS Athenia was sunk just nine hours after Prime Minister Chamberlain declared the outbreak of war on the ‘wireless’. It should also be noted that the last casualties hours before VE Day was the Merchant Ship SS Avondale Park, with the loss of merchant seafarers.
It is not solely an organisation for veterans but welcomes seafarers of any age. It particularly wishes to encourage young people who show an interest in the sea. Join us in our endeavors.
Further details can be obtained from:
National Chairman, Capt John Sail MNI
c/o Prelude Day Nursery, Ensign House, Osbournby, Sleaford, Lincs, NG34 0DG
Tel: 01529 455734
CLICK HERE to visit our Membership page for full information on joining.