For more than 35 years, it has been my immense privilege to be a local Isle of Man committee member of some UK based marine charities.
This has enabled me to witness fi rst-hand the extraordinary efforts of the many volunteers who give of their time and talents, so willingly and freely, both nationally and internationally, to support those organisations through fund-raising events and other initiatives. The proceeds go entirely to the respective charity and are used to provide assistance and succour to those seafarers and their dependents in need.
One such organisation is Seafarers UK (formerly King George’s Fund for Sailors), which for the fi fth year running, is campaigning for the Red Ensign – the British Merchant Navy’s official flag – to be flown on 3rd September, the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, on civic buildings, churches, historic buildings, tourist attractions, ports, etc. Since 2000, Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September has honoured the brave men and women who kept the ‘nation’ afloat during both World Wars, and celebrated the dependence on modern day seafarers who are responsible for 95% of imports into the British Isles.
In a foreword to the campaign, Admiral The Right Honourable The Lord West of Spithead GCB, DSC, PC wrote, ‘While many people know that the 3rd September 1939 marked the outbreak of the Second World War, few are aware that it also marks the fi rst major British maritime casualty, the merchant vessel SS Athenia, torpedoed just a few hours after hostilities were declared, with the loss of 128 passengers and crew. Although many hundreds of merchant ships and thousands of seafarers would meet the same fate in the years to come, 3rd September is now enshrined as ‘Merchant Navy Day’, and calls on local authorities to fl y the Red Ensign to celebrate a glorious seafaring past and a vital part of the nation’s economic future’.
Footnote: Isle of Man (Manx) registered vessels are permitted to fly a Red Ensign defaced by the emblem of the ‘Three Legs of Man’ (known as the triskele), in the fly of the flag. The defaced flag had been, it would seem, ‘unoffi cially’ flown for hundreds of years until 1932, when a complaint was made by a naval officer that it constituted an offence under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, by being flown by vessels without offi cial authority to do so. It would take until September 1971 to bring a resolution to the ‘dispute’, when Her Majesty the Queen signed a Royal Warrant granting authority for the Red Ensign flown by vessels registered in the Isle of Man to be defaced by the emblem of the ‘Three Legs of Man’.