Vol­un­teers help re­veal WW1 crew lists

De­tails of sea­far­ers who served in the Mer­chant Navy dur­ing the First World War have been pub­lished on­line thanks to the work of more than 400 tran­scribers

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Records of sailors who served in the Mer­chant Navy dur­ing the First World War have been re­leased on­line.

More than 400 vol­un­teers helped tran­scribe crew lists held by the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum and The Na­tional Ar­chives, pro­vid­ing de­tails of more than 750,000 peo­ple at sea in 1915.

Avail­able to search for free at 1915crewlists.rmg. co.uk, the records dis­play the names and ranks of each crew mem­ber on board a mer­chant ves­sel, as well as their home ad­dress, wages and dates of ser­vice.

Al­though most of the records con­cern male mer­chant sailors, a num­ber of women – work­ing as nurses, ma­trons and stew­ards – can also be lo­cated.

The ma­jor­ity of the doc­u­ments were pre­vi­ously only ac­ces­si­ble by vis­it­ing the Caird Li­brary at the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum in Green­wich, which looks af­ter 90 per cent of Mer­chant Navy crew lists from 1861, 1862 and 1865, and all sub­se­quent years end­ing in ‘5’.

An ad­di­tional 10 per cent sam­ple of sur­viv­ing crew lists is held at The Na­tional Ar­chives in Kew, with all oth­ers from 1863 on­wards de­posited with the Mar­itime His­tory Ar­chive in New­found­land – enough to fill six ship­ping con­tain­ers.

To make the 1915 records search­able – specif­i­cally se­lected to mark the First World War cen­te­nary – the ‘e-vol­un­teers’ down­loaded scans of the doc­u­ments to their com­put­ers and tran­scribed them from home. Peo­ple from as far afield as Ja­pan, Mex­ico and New Zealand took part, in­clud­ing sev­eral for­mer Mer­chant Navy per­son­nel with an in­ter­est in his­tory. Be­tween 2012 and 2015, the vol­un­teers tran­scribed crew lists for a to­tal of 39,000 voy­ages.

The sto­ries of sev­eral fallen he­roes were brought to light dur­ing the pro­ject, in­clud­ing that of Fred­er­ick Daniel Parslow, the first Bri­tish mer­chant sailor to be awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross. While serv­ing as mas­ter of the An­glo-Cal­i­for­nian, Parslow was killed af­ter the ship came un­der fire from a Ger­man U-boat near the Ir­ish coast, sac­ri­fic­ing him­self to save the cargo ves­sel and its crew.

By search­ing the data­base, it is not only pos­si­ble to find Parslow’s de­tails, but lo­cate records that show that his son, also named Fred­er­ick, was se­cond mate on board the ship at the time.

Janet Dempsey, Records Spe­cial­ist at The Na­tional Ar­chives, who man­aged the pro­ject in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum, said: “This is a truly global pro­ject. It is a real eye-opener to read through the dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties who served in the Mer­can­tile Marine. So no mat­ter where you are in the world, have a search – you just never know who you will find.”

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