The people of Sunderland are set to join in the tributes to the merchant navy this Monday (3rd September), which is Merchant Navy Day.

The Red Ensign – the flag of the merchant navy, which has a union jack in the corner of a red rectangle – will be raised at Sunderland Civic Centre at 10.00 am by the Mayor of Sunderland, Cllr Lynda Scanlon.

The Merchant Navy comprises all UK-registered commercial seagoing vessels and their crews. All UK Merchant Navy ships fly the Red Ensign.

King George V bestowed the title ‘Merchant Navy’ on Britain’s merchant fleets following their service in World War I. In this war, it is estimated that 14,661 merchant sailors were killed, mainly as a result of German U-boat attacks.

In the Second World War, 54% of the Merchant Navy fleet was lost. In 1939, the UK had the world’s largest merchant navy, with 33% of tonnage, but – due to the decline of the British Empire and the lure of foreign registration – this had declined to 3% by 2012.

The guests at the Sunderland ceremony will include the Deputy Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear, Major Eric Ingram MBE, DL, and Captain Stephen Healy from Trinity House, which is a national maritime welfare charity.

Former and current Merchant Navy sailors will take part in the ceremony and members of the public are welcome to attend too.

The proceedings will begin with a welcome speech from the mayor at 9.55 am. After this, Major Ingram will read out a message from HRH the Earl of Wessex, who is president of Seafarers UK, an organisation that raises funds for seafarers and their families in need.

Captain Healy will make a short speech about the Merchant Navy, honouring the courage and sacrifice of those who have served under the Red Ensign. There will then be a minute’s silence before the flag is raised.

Merchant Navy Day is organised by Seafarers UK, with the aim of raising awareness of the Merchant Navy’s contribution to British life. The event was first held in 2000, and the ‘Fly the Red Ensign’ campaign was launched in 2015 to encourage people to support the day.

2018 will be the fourth year that the Red Ensign has been raised outside the Civic Centre to mark Merchant Navy Day.

Cllr Scanlon said, “Sunderland has a very proud naval tradition and maritime heritage, and I am very honoured and proud to represent the people of our city at this event and raise the famous Red Ensign on their behalf.”

“This is a community that recognises and appreciates the contribution made by the Merchant Navy to all our lives as so many people from it have served in the Merchant Marine.”

“I hope people will join us to support Merchant Navy Day and be encouraged to pay their own personal tributes by seeing the Red Ensign flying proudly at the Civic Centre over the weekend.”

Graham Hall, the chair of the Sunderland Armed Forces Network, said, “Not only this country, but the world owes a historic debt of gratitude to the Merchant Navy, for keeping the supply routes open to the Allies through treacherous seas and dark times.”

“Many of those who have served, and continue to serve, in the Merchant Marine have had a significant impact on our lives. Sometimes their bravery goes unrecognised and unremembered, which is why Merchant Navy Day is so important.”

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