Flying the Red Ensign

3rd of September, 1939

Some know this date as the start of WWII. It was also the date of the first British casualty, SS Athenia, and her crew of 128. Throughout both WWI and WWII there were many more casualties as the Merchant Navy seafarers and fishermen fought the enemy, the weather, and the seas to keep the nation and the Armed Services supplied and able to defend themselves. Seafarers often didn’t return home for over two years, some having been sunk, survived and transferred to other ships to maintain lines of support. The total recorded loss for the First World War was 2,479 ships and 14,287 seamen, as well as 675 vessels of the Fishing Fleet and 434 Seamen. However, these figures only account for those who died at sea and were commemorated – those who died ashore were not commemorated.

Every 3rd of September, Merchant Navy Day honours the brave men and women who kept our island nation afloat during both World Wars and the more routine perils of violent storms and mountainous seas. The Red Duster, as the Red Ensign is affectionately named, has been the flag of the British Merchant Navy since 1854. Today, we are raising the flag to remember the sacrifices, salute the courage, and support the future of the often unsung personnel of the Merchant Navy.