Merchant Navy Memorial

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A ship, seahorse and the Tower, guarded by crossed anchors, dominate Tower Hamlets’ coat of arms. The maritime history represented brought the national Merchant Navy Memorial to Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill.

A Commonwealth War Graves Commission site, the Memorial has three sections. The first, unveiled by HM Queen Mary in 1928, records on its bronze-panelled columns the 11,896 names of merchant seafarers killed in the First World War who have no grave but the sea. Two, Captains Frederick Parslow and Archibald Smith were killed in actions in 1915 and 1917 respectively. Both were awarded the Victoria Cross, the only civilians so decorated in the First War, there since having been no other merchant service VC recipients.

By April 1917, one in four merchant ships leaving this country was being lost to enemy action, forcing Government realisation that Britain would have to capitulate within six months. This finally compelled the Admiralty and ship owners to introduce the convoy system in May 1917, groups of merchant vessels being escorted by Royal Navy and Allied warships. It changed the course of the War. The Mercantile Marine’s service and sacrifice led to HM King George V renaming it the Merchant Navy in 1928, instituting also the appointment of Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets, held today by HM The Queen.

In 1955, it was HM The Queen who unveiled the Memorial’s Second World War section with its names of 23,832 Merchant Navy members with no known grave. Written between those lines is the story in particular of the Battle of the Atlantic, the War’s longest continuous campaign. Lessons learned from 1914-18, convoys kept Britain fed, fuelled and fighting, bringing such as the RAF’s petrol for the Battle of Britain and made possible the build-up for D-Day and the liberation of Western Europe.

Lost during the Falklands Campaign, 17 Merchant Navy members without a grave are named on the final section of the Memorial. It was unveiled by Admiral Lord West, then First Sea Lord, in 2005.

Distinguishing it from other war memorials, those recorded on the Merchant Navy Memorial are all civilians, men and women, their ages ranging from 13 to 74. They are honoured each year at the Merchant Navy Day and Remembrance Day services in September and November respectively. All are welcome.

Pictures below courtesy of the Ministry of Defence from the Merchant Navy Day Service, September 2014.

225-020           Opening of Service viewed from within First World War memorial, looking over Royal Navy guard of honour from HMS President.

225-024           Within the Second World War memorial, former Merchant Navy members await the wreath-laying at the conclusion of the Service.

225-025           Wider shot of above showing also standard bearers and, above, some of the wider attendance.

225-027           Standards lowered during the silence.

225-028            The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, and Commodore Rob Dorey, Commodore Royal Fleet Auxiliary, lay the first wreaths on the First World War memorial.

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