Merchant Navy Day31/08/2017 08:45:11
Merchant Navy Day was established in 2000 by HM Government and is on 3rd September each year, the anniversary of the start of the Second World War. The Red Ensign, the flag of the British Merchant Navy, flies permanently over the national Merchant Navy Memorial in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill in London EC3 and on Merchant Navy Day it is flown in tribute on public and maritime buildings across the UK from the Shetland Islands to Falmouth and from Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast to Ceredigion and Great Yarmouth. In London, it includes the Department for Transport headquarters, HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.
During both WW1 and WW2 the Mercantile Marine played a fundamental part in keeping Britain going, in carrying supplies and troops. During WW1 two Captains of merchant marine ships were awarded the Victoria Cross for their valour, one of which was Captain Archibald Bisset Smith of NZSCo’s OTAKI, in 1917. The two Captain’s were posthumously commissioned by the Admiralty in 1919 as Lieutenants in the Royal Naval Reserve, avoiding the difficulty of elevating the merchant service to the level of the Royal Navy. They were the only two Mercantile Marine members so decorated and Captain Bisset Smith’s VC is now proudly preserved within the P&O Heritage Collection.
Portrait of Captain Bisset Smith by Stanley Pellett, with his Victoria Cross in the P&O Heritage Collection
Such was the service and sacrifice of the Mercantile Marine during the First World War that HM King George V decreed in 1928 that it should be known as the ‘Merchant Navy’. In the same year, the King instituted and conferred upon Edward, Prince of Wales, the title of ‘Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets’, an appointment now held by HM The Queen.
The Merchant Navy Association represents the interests of past and present British merchant seafarers of which many worked for P&O and its subsidiary Companies. The Merchant Navy Association commemorates those who served in the two World Wars and other conflicts at services held by its branches throughout the UK around the time of Merchant Navy Day. Services are held too in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The principal service takes place annually at the national Merchant Navy Memorial in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill in London EC3 on the Sunday immediately following Merchant Navy Day, which this year actually falls on Sunday 3rd September. In the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the three memorials there bear the 35,395 names of merchant seamen from the First and Second World Wars together with the Falklands Campaign for whom there is no known grave but the sea.