South Shields marine students remember seafarers on Merchant Navy Day

editorial image

Marine students have marked Merchant Navy Day this week by raising a flag in honour of fallen seafarers.

Staff and students at South Shields Marine School raised the Red Ensign to remember the sacrifices of thousands of Merchant Navy seamen during two world wars.

They gathered at 10am on Thursday to hoist two flags to mark Merchant Navy Day, the UK’s official day of remembrance and the day Britain entered World War Two in 1939.

The first was raised directly outside the marine school, which was founded in 1861 and is today part of South Tyneside College, and the second at the college’s main entrance about 150 yards away.

Gary Hindmarch, principal of South Shields Marine School, said it was important the contribution of the ‘invisible’ service’ was recognised.

He said: “Many thousands of seafarers have trained here over the years and their contribution to Britain has been great in so many ways. The day remembers the 14,000 mercantile marine seafarers who perished in World War One and the 32,000 in World War Two, where the Merchant Navy suffered a greater loss than the other three armed services.

“It also highlights the continual contribution made to the UK economy by the services and operations of the Merchant Navy and aims to overcome what has been classified as ‘sea blindness’ – a lack of awareness by the public to the Merchant Navy.

“It is vitally important that the actions of the service and those who are part of it are understood and known. I hope that by raising the Red Ensign we are contributing to that.”

September 3 also marks the first major British wartime maritime casualty, the sinking of the merchant vessel SS Athenia which was torpedoed 200 miles north-west of Ireland with the loss of 128 passengers and crew just hours after hostilities were declared.

In World War One, nearly eight million tons were lost to U-boats and 14,661 merchant seafarers killed, a figure that rose to almost 14.7 million tons – or 2,828 Allied ships – in World War Two.

The Red Ensign, or ‘Red Duster’, has been the recognised flag of the British Merchant Navy since 1854, just seven years before South Shields Marine School was founded.