For probably the first time ever the Red Ensign, flag of the Merchant Navy, will fly atop Stoke by Nayland church tower today (3rd September). Since 2000, Merchant Navy Day (MND) has honoured the brave men and women who – vitally – kept our nation fed and fuelled during both World Wars, and celebrates our dependence on modern day merchant seafarers.
September 3rd happens to be the day Britain went to war in 1939 and is now Merchant Navy Remembrance Day in Canada, too. On the very first day of war in 1939, the unarmed Donaldson liner Athenia, Liverpool to Montreal, was torpedoed 200 miles northwest of Northern Ireland with the loss of 112 lives including 16 children, the first singing of what has become known as the Battle of the Atlantic, and the first hostile act of war between Britain and Germany.
Britain’s Merchant Navy – or mercantile marine – has played a significant role in our nations history. It is much older than the Royal Navy which was brought into existence to protect our vital maritime trade. Merchant shipping suffered severe losses from German U-boat and surface raider attacks in both World Wars, during which approximately 32,000 merchant seafarers were killed. However, with the protection of the Royal Navy merchant ship convoys imported enough supplies to allow an Allied victory.
Nowadays the merchant marine and its seamen are responsible for 95% of UK imports, vital to our well being and economy, including half the food we eat, as well as a similar share of our exports.
Our new nine foot Red Ensign – or Red Duster, as it is affectionately known – which you will see flying on the church was generously supplied by Seafarers UK (formerly King George’s Fund for Sailors), following a request by Richard Channon.
There could be few better places for such a flag to fly in Suffolk, as Stoke church tower is in line of site of the North Sea off Clacton as well as the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich. If you feel able, please give to Seafarers UK (www.seafarers.uk) or one of the several maritime charities which dedicate themselves to the welfare of present day merchant seamen and seafarers’ families.
On the same weekend 2nd-4th September – Stoke by Nayland church tower will be floodlit to mark Merchant Navy Day, while services and commemorative events will take plae across the country inluding at the Merchant Navy Memorial on Tower Hill in London and at the nation’s great seaports.
See www.merchantnavyfund.org/merchant-navy-day for local councils and other organisations recognising Merchant Navy Day by flying the flag.
(This article originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of “The LSPN Community News for Leavenheath, Stoke by Nayland, Polstead & Nayland)