Merchant Navy Day service takes place to honour South Tyneside's seafarers past and present

Tributes were paid to Merchant Navy seafarers past and present, as an annual service in their honour returned after covid restrictions eased.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 6:05 pm

The Merchant Navy Day Service is a key event in South Tyneside’s calendar, with many thousands of the boroughs residents having served at sea over generations.

It was held at the Merchant Navy Memorial, near the Customs House at Mill Dam, South Shields, on Friday, September 3,

Ordinarily, the ceremony takes place at the nearby Mission to Seafarers building. But this year’s service was held outdoors to help reduce the risk of covid.

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The Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.

The 2020 service was cancelled altogether due to the pandemic.

Dozens turned out to honour the area’s seafaring heritage with the service led by Chaplain Pat Bealing beginning at 10.30am, and wreaths were laid at the memorial.

South Tyneside Council leader, Councillor Tracey Dixon, deputy mayor Councillor Joe Amar, and deputy mayoress Lynn Blair were among dignitaries attending the service, as well as Fay CunninghamHonorary Secretary to the Mission to Seafarers.

Cllr Amar said: "South Tyneside has a long and proud maritime history. From ship builders to seafarers and marine engineers, so many of the borough's residents have had a close involvement with the sea.

The laying of wreaths during The Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.

"It is, therefore, only right that we remember the sacrifices of those who have served in the Merchant Navy as well as paying tribute to those who continue to serve today.

"It was an absolute honour to take part in this service."

Councillor Alan Percy, who serves on North Tyneside Council, was also in attendance.

“This place used to be completely packed with ships,” said the 76-year-old.

The civic party attending the Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.

"You couldn’t see out to the banks on the opposite side of the river for all the vessels that were moored here.

"It’s important to come out and remember this aspect of the area’s history. But sadly the numbers seem to be declining year on year.”

Ian Bell, who attended the service as part of the congregation, said: “I think the continuing level of commemoration just goes to show much this town gave to the Merchant Navy.

"Thousands of the British men who lost their lives at sea in the Second World War came from this area.”

Chaplain Pat Bealing saying prayers during the Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.

Ian Smith, another attendee, said: “I’m happy enough with the turnout.

"It’s obviously an older crowd, in the main. But we weren’t able to do this last year, so it was great to be here this time around.”

John Eltringham, a retired shipping firm boss, said: “The seafarer has always been treated as a strange animal – which is why the Mission to Seafarers was set up, in the first place.

"It’s always about the world wars and the 3,000 seafarers that sailed from this river and died. But, turning to the present for a moment, the plight of seafarers hasn’t gone away.

"Many seafarers haven’t returned home for more than a year and haven’t been paid because of the uncertainties and restrictions thrown up by the pandemic.

"So it’s been nice to come down today and hear that mentioned. It’s very much an ongoing problem – there are still thousands of displaced seafarers around the world today.”

Fay Cunningham. Picture by FRANK REID.

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Chaplain Pat Bealing saying prayers during the Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.
The Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.
Deputy Mayor councillor Joe Amar was in attendance.
The Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.
The Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.
The Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.
The Merchant Navy Memorial event held at Mill Dam, South Shields. Picture by FRANK REID.