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.

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