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My thoughts on the pride of being a Merchant Navy Officer

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  • My thoughts on the pride of being a Merchant Navy Officer

    I was asked recently why I was so proud to be in the MN. I replied that I was proud that when our ship was "taken up from trade" by the RN for the Falklands war every man aboard her volunteered to go to the Falklands. It was a tradition that we were volunteers and unarmed civilians.

    But it is more than that. If any of you are ever lucky enough to talk to someone who was on the Russian Convoys you will sense their quiet pride and dignity in what they did. I spoke to some of them at the Cenotaph one year and they quietly whispered that the MN lost a bigger percentage than all the other forces combined. I never really paid much heed to that comment - oft repeated it - but never really checked until now. They were incredible men though and I felt honoured to be able to sit and talk to them.

    At the National Memorial Arboretum the MN lives lost in the Falklands are the only names of Merchant Navy Personnel on the main memorial, and it was probably one of the first acknowledgements of the lives given. If any of you have been to the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas then I wonder if you went to the Merchant Navy Wood? 2535 oak trees - one for every Merchant Ship lost in World War Two. Surrounding those trees are trees planted for many of the 224 large warships lost (The total lost by the Navy was over 1,500 but included all the oilers, stores ships, human torpedo's and midget subs - not that any of them were any less important of course).

    So what were the losses in total and as a percentage?

    Service
    Total Served
    Total Lost
    Percentage
    Royal Navy 935,758 50,758 5.4%
    Royal Air Force 1,208,000 70,000 3.8%
    Army 4,000,000 144,000 3.6%
    Merchant Navy 185,000 30,248 16.4%
    Totals
    6,328,758
    295,006
    Before anyone says that this figure is wrong, and that figure is wrong, there are some numbers that are not totally agreed upon. I used the ones that were most commonly used whilst I was researching this. But the generalisation of the figures still does not distort the real figures that much if they are a few hundred either way. Yes, Bomber Command lost a bigger percentage, but as a total of the RAF numbers it is slightly obscured.

    It is astonishing to realise that the White Beret men I spoke to were right. The Merchant Navy lost a larger percentage of its total personnel that all the other forces combined!

    So, go and read about the Malta Convoys, PQ17, and the story of the MV San Demetrio, (If you can find it, the film called "San Demetrio London", which is quite poorly made but can be excused because it was made during the war), one of the astonishing stories of the war, and a lucky bit of salvage for the crew as well! and then be proud of your traditions.

    So perhaps the next time you are stood on parade in the morning a bit slouched and relaxed, or think your shoes are polished enough, or think "that will do" just remember that your fore-bearers would have shuddered at "that will do" - I believe we owe all of them the honour of being allowed to follow in their footsteps and I hope your wear your uniform and insignia with pride. I know I am still incredibly proud of both my service in the Merchant Navy and the Fire Service.

    Ian
    Hatchorder
    OC's Resident CV Guru
    Last edited by Hatchorder; 8 November 2015, 11:31 AM.
    "Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk." - Sir Francis Chichester.
    "Waves are not measured in feet or inches, they are measured in increments of fear." - Buzzy Trent

    "Careers at Sea" Ambassador - Experience of General Cargo, Combo ships, Tanker, Product Carrier, Gas Carrier, Ro-Ro, Reefer Container, Anchor Handlers.

  • #2
    I have the upmost respect for the MN Men & Women who fell during the War. Those stats never knew it was that high wow!! . The Merchant Navy today is probably one of the most important industries going !!. I remember reading a fact a while back and it was something along the lines of if like 10% of the ships in the world stopped for just 24hours, 50% of the world run out of food. The fact that 90% of items that come into the Uk by ship is an even more astounding fact. Its really hard to some up what the Merchant Navy Means It is probably one of the Hardest Jobs in the World. You have to join a ship with people you never have met before possibly from another country, different views,different faiths. You have to put your life in these guys hands while you are onboard the ship and you can't just phone 999 and wait for an ambulance.

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    • #3
      During my short time in the Royal Navy I was fortunate enough to go to the national arboretum on Armed Forces Day and see the Merchant Navy Wood with my own eyes. It's hard to put into words just how much of an eye-opener that was, It's just something that really needs to be seen to be appreciated for what it represents.

      Comment


      • #4
        Great post, thanks. The National Memorial Arboretum is very high on my list of things to do over the next two months, I near it's well worth a visit.
        'Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans'

        Comment


        • #5
          As I only live 20 minutes from Alrewas I was thinking of arranging a date to offer to show people around the National Memorial Arboretum as I go about 5 times a year? Anyone think this is a good idea?

          Ian
          "Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk." - Sir Francis Chichester.
          "Waves are not measured in feet or inches, they are measured in increments of fear." - Buzzy Trent

          "Careers at Sea" Ambassador - Experience of General Cargo, Combo ships, Tanker, Product Carrier, Gas Carrier, Ro-Ro, Reefer Container, Anchor Handlers.

          Comment


          • #6
            It's not a bad idea at all, the RN do a very similar thing (or at least they certainly used to, not sure if they still do) with their Officer Cadets, take them to either Airewas or Normandy, presumably to further reinforce a sense of pride and tradition in the service and give newcomers a chance to appreciate and reflect on the history and sacrifices made by their predecessors. It worked.

            Comment


            • #7
              I went through a bit of a phase recently of reading about the Atlantic and Arctic convoys, horrendous stuff but if anything it left me with even more respect for those who served in any capacity at sea. Some of the stories really were upsetting to say the least.

              I don't wear a uniform (and doubt I ever will), don't sail with British seafarers and no longer sail under the Red Ensign but there's a small part of me that's proud to be a merchant seaman. I have the utmost respect for those who went before and just got on with it. To me that is true bravery- just getting on with it, despite it all.

              Armistice day onboard a ship with no British seafarers felt very strange and yet I'm sailing in the same waters where my own grandparents were torpedoed during the Second World War (although survived via lifeboats).

              Comment


              • #8
                They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
                Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
                At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
                We will remember them.
                "Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk." - Sir Francis Chichester.
                "Waves are not measured in feet or inches, they are measured in increments of fear." - Buzzy Trent

                "Careers at Sea" Ambassador - Experience of General Cargo, Combo ships, Tanker, Product Carrier, Gas Carrier, Ro-Ro, Reefer Container, Anchor Handlers.

                Comment


                • #9
                  On all the oceans white caps flow,
                  They have no crosses row on row,
                  For those who sleep beneath the sea,
                  They sleep in peace; our country?s free
                  There are no poppies on these sailors? graves,
                  Nor wreaths upon the storm tossed waves,
                  No Last Post from a military band,
                  So far away from their native land.
                  No heartbroken words carved on stone,
                  Just shipmates lying there all alone,
                  The only tributes are the seagull sweeps
                  And the tear drop when a loved one weeps

                  WE WILL REMEMBER THEM


                  There are a few versions of this

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Hatchorder View Post
                    I was asked recently why I was so proud to be in the MN. I replied that I was proud that when our ship was "taken up from trade" by the RN for the Falklands war every man aboard her volunteered to go to the Falklands. It was a tradition that we were volunteers and unarmed civilians.

                    But it is more than that. If any of you are ever lucky enough to talk to someone who was on the Russian Convoys you will sense their quiet pride and dignity in what they did. I spoke to some of them at the Cenotaph one year and they quietly whispered that the MN lost a bigger percentage than all the other forces combined. I never really paid much heed to that comment - oft repeated it - but never really checked until now. They were incredible men though and I felt honoured to be able to sit and talk to them.

                    At the National Memorial Arboretum the MN lives lost in the Falklands are the only names of Merchant Navy Personnel on the main memorial, and it was probably one of the first acknowledgements of the lives given. If any of you have been to the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas then I wonder if you went to the Merchant Navy Wood? 2535 oak trees - one for every Merchant Ship lost in World War Two. Surrounding those trees are trees planted for many of the 224 large warships lost (The total lost by the Navy was over 1,500 but included all the oilers, stores ships, human torpedo's and midget subs - not that any of them were any less important of course).

                    So what were the losses in total and as a percentage?

                    Service
                    Total Served
                    Total Lost
                    Percentage
                    Royal Navy 935,758 50,758 5.4%
                    Royal Air Force 1,208,000 70,000 3.8%
                    Army 4,000,000 144,000 3.6%
                    Merchant Navy 185,000 30,248 16.4%
                    Totals
                    6,328,758
                    295,006
                    Before anyone says that this figure is wrong, and that figure is wrong, there are some numbers that are not totally agreed upon. I used the ones that were most commonly used whilst I was researching this. But the generalisation of the figures still does not distort the real figures that much if they are a few hundred either way. Yes, Bomber Command lost a bigger percentage, but as a total of the RAF numbers it is slightly obscured.

                    It is astonishing to realise that the White Beret men I spoke to were right. The Merchant Navy lost a larger percentage of its total personnel that all the other forces combined!

                    So, go and read about the Malta Convoys, PQ17, and the story of the MV San Demetrio, (If you can find it, the film called "San Demetrio London", which is quite poorly made but can be excused because it was made during the war), one of the astonishing stories of the war, and a lucky bit of salvage for the crew as well! and then be proud of your traditions.

                    So perhaps the next time you are stood on parade in the morning a bit slouched and relaxed, or think your shoes are polished enough, or think "that will do" just remember that your fore-bearers would have shuddered at "that will do" - I believe we owe all of them the honour of being allowed to follow in their footsteps and I hope your wear your uniform and insignia with pride. I know I am still incredibly proud of both my service in the Merchant Navy and the Fire Service.

                    Ian
                    Well-said, especially the part about pride in traditions and uniform. Whilst uniforms in the MN don't, as I understand it, hold the same importance and are used far less than in the armed forces, I still feel it is important to wear them with pride, not least as a mark of respect to those that served in the two World Wars and conflicts since, even if only for a few occasions throughout one's career.

                    The MN was vital to victory in both World Wars (and indeed the Falklands) and the memory of those merchant seafarers from all Allied nations that served, both those that came home and those that never did, should be honoured better than it is. It is important to remember that MN officers and ratings follow in a proud tradition forged in both war and peace, and fulfil an essential role.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I am in two minds about this, I feel much the same way about this as about the wearing of a poppy, which I choose not to do.

                      The fact that former merchant seafarers gave so much in a conflict which occurred before I was born does not fill me with pride, I have nothing to be proud of as I took no part in any of it. I do feel that it should be remembered, but I feel that remembrance should be a personal thing, not a public display and certainly not a statement of support for present troops or as a statement of Britishness.

                      I have seen people vilified for choosing not to wear a poppy on TV, or on a football or rugby pitch, I have seen vile scum like Britain first use the poppy to promote their hate filled campaigns and selling poppy related merchandise, I see posts on Facebook with lies about various people who are supposedly trying to ban the poppy in case it offends someone (hint, no-one is trying to ban christmas either). When wearing a poppy becomes something in which you are either for "us" or against us then it is about so much more than remembrance and it is not something that I want to be involved in.

                      I feel similar about the MN uniform issue, while I feel a connection to those seafarers who have given so much in past conflicts I do not have a pride in the uniform because of it, I would prefer to remember that sacrifice with humility and respect than with pride in something in which I took no part.
                      Go out, do stuff

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I side with Clanky on this while I think people who did sail during the wars deserve to be remembered I don't feel pride in it when I put my uniform on and given that I am only ever seen in uniform by about 6-8 people all on the ship it doesn't feel like a special tribute to it.
                        There has been a lot of discussion about the 'wear a poppy with pride' and it has been fairly well established that 'pride' isn't actually the right emotion that you should get from putting it on whilst you shouldn't feel ashamed for wearing it or not.

                        Given that it is really only Cruise ships that now go in for full formal uniforms and some companies have gone to polo shirts instead of the traditional rig.
                        you can take it with a pinch of salt, but i prefer it with a nip of whisky

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