This year is the centenary of the start of the first world war. There probably is no one still alive who fought during the first world war 1914-1918. However, the bravery and sacrifice so many brave people made should never be forgotten. I have been researching my family history, and I have found that my grandfather and great uncle both joined the Merchant Navy around about 1916 and served until 1918..
So what did the Merchant Navy actually do during the 1st world war? Britain depended on civilian cargo ships to import food and materials,but they were also used to take soldiers overseas and also to keep the troops supplied with their needs during the war of 1914-1918.(also 1939-1945) Where did the title Merchant navy come from? King George the fifth gave the title of ;Merchant Navy after the first world war in recognition of the contribution made by the Merchant sailors who came from all parts of the world…My grand father and great uncle who served in the merchant navy during the first world war,were from Trinidad..
The Merchant Navy and the presence and danger of U-Boats During the first world war German U boats started out by obeying Prize rules’ which meant U boats would surface before attacking merchant ships,this allowed the merchant sailors aboard the ships to escape,but in return the merchant sailors were not allowed to defend themselves,this included the fact that they were not allowed to send out radio distress signals. . At some point during the first world war (about 1917?)however, this rule stopped being observed.
It is said German u boats sank 2 million tons of merchant shipping in just a few months of 1917. What did the the British admiralty do about this? The British Admiralty decided they had to change their strategy.. So it was decided that between 20-50 merchant ships would be protected by warships..The idea being, A convoy was just as hard to detect in the middle of a large ocean as a single ship. Also The Royal Naval Air Service(RNAS) air ships and aeroplanes helped to defend Merchant Ships and war ships as they approached or departed from various British Ports. Throughout the first world war it was said only one ship was sunk by a German U boat while being escorted by an aircraft.
Another technique used during the first world war was to use ‘Dazzle Paint’ What was Dazzle Paint,who invented it,how did it protect the ships? The dazzle -a camouflage scheme for ships was invented by an artist called Norman Wilkinson..(Although it is said there had been a prior claim by zoologist John Graham Kerr.)
Dazzle painted ships above. Norman Wilkinson wrote in 1917 ”To paint a ship with large patches of strong color will so distract the form of the vessel so that the chances of a successful aim by attacking submarines will be greatly decreased.. By the end of the war about 4,000 British ships were painted in ‘Dazzle Schemes’
How many Merchant sailors lost their lives during the first world war? sadly it has been estimated that around 14,661 Merchant Seafarers lost their lives during the war..
We should never forget the bravery these people showed,we must never forget the sacrifices all service men and women made in both the first and second world wars… We must never forget what they did ….and what ALL the brave service men and women still do today…
So what happened to my grandfather and great uncle? My grandfather and great uncle survived the first world war, They were musicians they played the music that kept the twenties Roaring..in Europe and the United Kingdom and they and other great musicians of that era kept the music playing throughout the thirties and forties….
Memorial to the men women and members of the Fishing Fleets and Merchant Navy
There are memorials all over the United Kingdom(and all over the world) to commemorate all service men and women of all conflicts,I am mentioning the one in London as I have been to see it.. Sadly there are many men women of the Merchant navy and the fishing fleets who died in both world wars,who sadly have no known graves.. The Tower Hill Memorial commemorates the men and women of the Mrchant Navy and the fishing fleets who died in both the first and second world wars and who have no known grave. The tower hill memorial is at The South side of the Garden of Trinity Square London (It’s close to the Tower of London) There is a memorial register which may be consulted at Trinity House Corporation,Trinity Square,( Cooper Row entrance) Tower Hill London,EC3 4DH But please call before you visit to check on opening times etc.