Remembering the Merchant Navy

4th September 2018

Over 200,000 men and women sailed in the British Merchant Navy at the outbreak of war in September 1939. Many of them had connections to Northern Ireland.

Merchant ships made a great contribution to the British war effort in World War One. In recognition of this, King George V granted non-military sailors the title of Merchant Navy.

When World War Two broke out in 1939, the British Merchant Navy was the largest in the world. Around 200,000 men and women sailed under the Red Ensign. The Ministry of Shipping under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Gilmour took charge of the merchant fleet.

All of Britain’s oil arrived by sea, as did half the food, and most other raw materials. Convoys of merchant ships were essential to the war effort. Germany launched attacks by mine, U-Boat, and plane at these convoys in what became known as The Battle of the Atlantic. They declared that all Merchant Navy ships flying the Red Ensign were enemy warships. 30,248 merchant seamen and women died during World War Two including many with connections to Northern Ireland.

Robert Corbett Boyle

Chief Steward • 171309

Chief Steward Robert Corbett Boyle served in the Merchant Navy during World War Two. He was on board SS Refast on 26th January 1942 when it was attacked.

Thomas Frederick Magowan Chambers

Junior Third Engineer Officer

Seaman Thomas Frederick Magowan Chambers served with the Merchant Navy in World War Two. Born in 1918, he was the son of Mr and Mrs FO Chambers, of Belfast.

James Alexander Fee

Fireman • Merchant Navy

James Alexander Fee, known as Alexander, served in the Merchant Navy and was on board the Belfast built SS Castlehill when it sank after a Luftwaffe attack.

William Fisken


Merchant Navy man William Fisken was a Radio Officer on board the SS Lochgarry when it sank off the coast of Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.

George McCormick

Mate • Merchant Navy

Mate George McCormick served in the Merchant Navy during World War Two. He died on board the SS Castlehill, which was attacked in the Bristol Channel.

George Moore


George Moore died on 21st June 1944 while serving with the Merchant Navy. He is remembered on the Thompson family grave in Carnmoney Cemetery, Newtownabbey.

William Patton


William Patton served with the Merchant Navy during the war. At the time of his death, he was listed as a New Zealander but his family came from Co. Down.

William Joseph Robb

Fireman • SS Salveda

William Joseph Robb of Belfast, Co. Antrim was 59 years old when he died on board Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship SS Salveda on 19th December 1943.

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