Merchant Navy - Unsung Heroes of the Sea. Ships/Crews/Dangers.

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by spidge, Aug 17, 2011.

  1. Quarterfinal

    Quarterfinal Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the additional information on the Torpedo Badges.

    Noting the raw terms of service at the outset of the thread, a while ago I came across another rather quirky regulation applied to a possibly sizeable number of merchant seamen lost at sea in WW1- and probably carried over into WW2 subsequently.

    In 1917, a relative’s ship was torpedoed without warning and sank within 4 minutes. Defensively armed and under ‘Admiralty Orders’ at the time, the vessel had joined a convoy in Gibraltar a few days earlier, where she had also embarked four "distressed seamen" for transit back to the UK. They were some of the surviving crew from another merchantman torpedoed and sunk off Cape Spartel three weeks previously.

    In that attack, two of the latters’ shipmates were killed, both firemen, one originally from Lisbon and the other a Dutchman. Their Master was taken prisoner aboard the U-boat; the remaining survivors seemingly left to their fate in boats and life-rafts.

    That first ship (also under Admiralty Orders) had been conveying coal and Naval stores to Gibraltar.

    Twenty perished when my relative’s vessel was lost, but only 17 names are commemorated on the plaque at Tower Hill. Three of the four “distressed seamen” who were also killed - from accounts at Kew - do not seem to have been commemorated anywhere as war casualties.

    Their deaths are corroborated in a shipping company archive note, but in addition to not being listed on any plaque at Tower Hill, neither are they seemingly named on memorials in their wartime home-ports, although this may be unintentional.

    I could only attribute this to their being not formally articled as crew on the fateful voyage home and therefore technically passengers. This was confirmed by the CWGC, with whom I raised a subsequent query.

    So, the hapless three:
    1. Engage (possibly re-engage) to serve on a ship that had been under Admiralty Charter for two years.
    2. Survive her loss from enemy action and being adrift at sea for several days.
    3. In Gibraltar, "distressed" and possibly injured from an ordeal in which two crewmates were killed, they are chalked onto another Admiralty Orders vessel for a return to the UK and perish as a consequence of a further enemy act a few days later. However, because they are Merchant Marine, they do not receive any formal recognition etc .... despite at least two of the three seeming to have had significant previous service.
    Unsung, indeed.
    Roy Martin and Hugh MacLean like this.
  2. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    My view and I know it is shared by many is that it is a slight on our Nation that merchant seamen who served their country in the way that you describe are not commemorated by the CWGC.
    Distressed British Seamen either took passage back home as passengers paid by their shipping co. or they signed on articles as supernumenery crew - at the end of the day they were merchant seamen who died in service and that should be respected and remembered. Unsung, absolutely.

    I presume you have checked the last crew agreement in the ship's official logbook which may show if they were recorded on articles? The difficulty is the last logbook would have gone down with the ship so only the shoreside copy would be available and may not show any late additions. It is always worth going through the logbook for mention of those DBS in case anything regarding their status onboard is noted.

    Here is the official word from the CWGC on it.

    Mercantile Marine (First World War)

    Mercantile Marine Services refers to those who, during the First World War, had signed on the books for a voyage on a British or Commonwealth registered merchant ship or fishing boat. We commemorate all sailors of the Commonwealth Mercantile Marine Services who died, while signed on for a voyage, as a direct result of enemy action or while detained by the enemy.

    Last edited: Feb 9, 2021
  3. Quarterfinal

    Quarterfinal Well-Known Member

    Hello again,

    My notes from quite some time ago were a pencil list/synopsis rather than a photocopy, but I later raised the issue with the CWGC Enquiry Support Team, just in case of oversight. The response was a timely and respectful regret; but they also made a correction at the same time to an error in another crewman’s entry.

    Nonetheless, I’m with you on the overall inequity of the matter.
    Hugh MacLean likes this.

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