Although the Merchant Navy was officially recognised by the British monarch following its vital role in the First World War, it is not one of the Armed Forces, made up of the Royal Navy, Army, and Air Force.
Because of this, sailors in the Merchant Navy didn’t qualify for military honours and were not included on military war memorials.
Those who gave their life in service during the two world wars are commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial, at Trinity Square, London. The memorial was designed by Edwin Lutyens , who also designed the Cenotaph in Westminster, and was unveiled in 1928. Commemorations are held at the memorial on Merchant Navy Day on 3 September.
The memorial names almost 12,000 Merchant Marine casualties who have no grave but the sea.
There is also a Merchant Marine Memorial at the National Arboretum near Lichfield, Staffordshire, and a further memorial was dedicated at Welsh Back, Bristol. In 2009 a memorial was dedicated at The Shore in Leith.
In 1945, with rationing still in force in Britain, people had a greater awareness of the role of the Merchant Navy in keeping vital supplies and food flowing into the nation.
You can watch a short British Pathé film here about Merchant sailors ‘signing orf’ at the end of the war: