Merchant seamen’s names will live on
AT 12pm last Sunday a former Kintyre sailor remembered all the merchant seamen lost in battle.
John Manning, 85, from Drumlemble was alone as he placed a wreath, on Merchant Navy memorial day, the same date as Britain entered the Second World War in 1939, at Campbeltown cenotaph, while gazing out to sea across the loch.
It was not until as recently as 1999 that the government officially created a special memorial day. The parliamentary under secretary of state Keith Hill MP, wrote to the Merchant Navy Association setting aside September 3.
Mr Manning said: ‘The Merchant Navy has served the nation in times of peace and war. The Red Ensign has flown in every corner of the globe on exploration, commerce and in support of the armed forces.
‘The Merchant Navy memorial at Tower Hill, London, records the names of 46,000 seafarers who died in both world wars and have no known grave other than the sea.
‘The total sacrifice during the 20th century is known to be 56,000 men, women and children as in the earlier years of the century some served from the age of 15.
‘With such devoted and unstinting service to the nation it will not come as any surprise to find that many seafarers felt overlooked and forgotten when laurels and accolades were being bestowed.
‘People are fully aware of the much-deserved patronage and support given to the armed services across many years.
‘Many people, and not just seafarers, wished the Merchant Navy to be similarly acknowledged and were waiting for a lead and an opportunity.
‘It seemed that recognition for the Merchant Navy was long overdue.’
The merchant marine service was given the title Merchant Navy by King George V at the end of World War One as recognition of the role that they had played in the logistical supply of food, munitions and manpower in the: ‘War to end all wars.’
The King George’s Fund for sailors was established at the same time. It is available to all seafarers regardless of the flag they have sailed under and is the sole source of funds for merchant seamen, they being excluded from, for example, the Royal British Legion for Scotland’s funds because Merchant Navy personnel were not: ‘Under command.’
Mr Manning added: ‘It has been suggested that those ‘under command’ take cognisance of the fact that without the Merchant Navy to bring in the petroleum, probably few Hurricanes or Spitfires would have been able to leave the ground.
‘Nor many a tank or lorry engine turn over and run, or any warship put to sea because of empty bunkers.
‘Without cargo ships and liners Britain would have been deficient of the thousands and thousands of tons of munitions and other war materials needed for defence.
‘There would not have been the aid from allies of food or personnel joining the conflict from many parts of the world.
‘Once a Merchant Navy ship was torpedoed the crew’s pay immediately ceased and they would be classed VNC - voyage not completed. In addition the service’s prisoners of war received no pay and their families were subjected to means tested dole.
‘September 3 also commemorates the first maritime casualty of the Second World War.’
The horror of war began immediately when, as Mr Manning continues: ‘SS Athenia, an unarmed merchant cargo/liner, was sunk by an enemy U-boat – submarine – off Ireland with the loss of 19 male and female crew and 93 passengers.
‘It has therefore, a very special significance for merchant seamen, hence a remembrance of two minutes at 12pm, eight bells.’
John Manning looks out to sea before laying the wreath at Campbeltown cenotaph.
The wreath’s text with a personal line from John Manning.