Merchant Navy Day

Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September honours the brave men and women who kept our island nation afloat during both World Wars, and celebrates our dependence on modern day merchant seafarers.

Here at Community Network we reach out to those connected to the Merchant Navy, helping retired seafarers participate in our Seafarers Link telephone communities. We know that many of our beneficiaries will be participating in local and national ceremonies this week.

This year we are ‘doing our bit’, joining local councils and others across the UK commemorating Merchant Navy Day at 10.00am, 3rd September 2015.  Our funding partner Seafarers UK is calling on the government to formally recognise Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September as the official day on which the UK’s historical and ongoing dependence on Merchant Navy seafarers is commemorated, and their special needs acknowledged.

Merchant Navy Memorial and Gardens, Bristol“In war and peace they toiled their trade

Over large angry seas,

Remember them as here you stand,

Beneath these placid trees”

Capt. J Earl

Words quoted above are from Bristol’s Merchant Navy Memorial, June 2000, plaque in the regenerated harbourside, Welsh Back, Bristol.  You can just see the river behind the memorial benches. Out of view in this photo is the flag pole with Red Ensign hoisted. The flag which represents the Merchant Navy will be displayed across the country during commemorations this week.


Funding secured for Seafarers Link

The news is often full of stories about what’s happening in the world. It isn’t very often that we hear good news. Here at Community Network we are thrilled that Seafarers UK have agreed to give us a grant of £29,769 for another year to run our Seafarers Link project. We look forward to working with more isolated ex-seafarers in 2014.

Thank you Seafarers UK for helping us continue this vital project.

News from our seafarers

Our most recent blog comes from Frank, a member of one of our Seafarer’s Link groups. He shares with us his experience of the events commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic.

“I was intrigued by the choice of May to commemorate a battle which began with the sinking of SS “Athenia” eight hours after the declaration of war on September 3rd 1939 and continued until the sinking of the SS ”Avondale Park” two hours before the signing of the armistice in May 1945. Apparently May 1943 was chosen as the turning point of the battle.

We started on Wednesday with a special choral evensong in St Pauls followed by a reception in the Mansion House. The refreshments were excellent and plentiful and the ancient hall looked as it must have done for the last Lord Mayor’s banquet and was awash with gold braid and magnificent decorations.

On Thursday, we were invited to afternoon tea and dinner with the captain of HMS “Illustrious” moored in the river off Greenwich. After tea we could rest until the other guests arrived for the Champagne reception. The BBC were already busy with their gear on the flight deck which was cold and windy. The “One Show” was to be broadcast from the flight deck where we watched the fly-past by a Fairy

“Swordfish” escorted by four helicopters and the landing of a “Merlin” and enjoyed the band of the Royal Marines (who later played during the dinner).

The VIP guest (Duke of Kent) landed later and we repaired to the hanger where we escaped from the wind and found our allotted places on the tables laid ready for the 350 guests. Dan Snow was the after-dinner speaker and, in his talk, he related an outline of the Battle of the Atlantic

One veteran was allocated to each table which seated a dozen guests and we were made very welcome. We had a sailor to look after each table and he made sure that every glass remained full. Not being a wine-drinker I asked if I could have a beer and was advised to go down to the seamen’s mess after the dinner where I would be able “to fill my boots” with all I could drink.

The starters were already on the table (Thin-sliced herb-crusted fillet of beef on a bed of rocket and spinach with coloured beetroot and mango salsa). We then collected our own selection from the side-tables of thirteen cold meats, eight fish dishes, eighteen salads, five desserts and with coffee and whisky to end. There followed a special toast to the veterans which made us all feel ten feet tall. The event was supposed to finish by 2230 for the boat back to Greenwich but the programme ran late, everyone was having such a good time and it was just after midnight by the time we had everyone aboard the tender. Not wanting to spend a night on a seat at Stratford station, I joined the people staying in the Victory Club and arrived home at 1110 on Friday.

The final event was a parade and service at the Merchant Navy war memorial at Tower Hill on Saturday, with a short reception in All Hallows-by-the-Tower church – again awash with gold braid and decorations. Altogether a memorable week which we will all remember for a very long time.”

Frank Kelley R241421

If you are a former seafarer and would like to join one of our telephone link groups please contact Chris Rankin at Community Network on 01752 812674 or 0845 619 9992. Or email her at

Fabulous fundraisers from Watch Ashore

This week is all about our Seafarers Link project and the work it does to support former members of the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and the UK’s fishing fleet.

On Wednesday I was lucky enough to be invited to speak to the Plymouth and District branch of Watch Ashore. The national organisation was founded in 1933 to allow wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters and sisters of Merchant Navy Officers to get to know and support each other whilst their loved ones were at sea.

I received a fantastic welcome from the ladies of Watch Ashore and an insight into lives of seafarers and their families at home.

The members of the Plymouth & District Watch Ashore are also amazing fundraisers and through a number of events have raised £700 for Community Network’s Seafarers Link project. Our thanks go to everyone involved for their effort and generosity.

Sue Williams presents cheque to Angela Cairns, Community Network.

From ship to shore

My name is Chris Rankin. I am a retired civil servant, ex WRNR married to a retired Merchant Navy Captain with 3 grown up children who all live in the antipodes and I live in Cornwall.

What do I do within Community Network, well it was once said that I give 76 retired seafarers an hour’s worth of pleasure each fortnight! I run the Seafarers Link project allowing ex-seafarers to meet up by telephone fortnightly.

In 2007 the Maritime Charities Funding Group (MCFG) commissioned a report “Supporting Seafarers and their families” one section of which titled “Older Seafarers and Dependants”, demonstrated that ex seafarers are more lonely and socially isolated than their contemporaries who had followed other occupations.  Community Network approached MCFG for funding to launch Seafarers Link on the basis of the recommendations in the report.   Seafarers Link is now funded by Seafarers UK with an aim of reaching out to more retired Seafarers to enable them to join in the link and spend time talking  and sharing their sea stories with other like-minded people.

Members (both male and female) involved in this national telephone link tell me what an integral part of their lifestyles the calls have become and indeed new friendships have been formed.   Those that care for these seafarers have also expressed an evident lift in spirits, both in anticipating and following on from their group participation in their group telephone calls.  Calls give them the opportunity to have some social contact outside their normal day and to share their sea stories with each other.  In fact if any of them have to go into hospital they have even been able to continue their calls from their hospital bed.

Recently we have been able to publish some of the stories from these telephone calls as a volunteer graduate in literature has compiled CDs of some of their stories meaning they will be remembered long into the future.

Outside of Community Network I am the National Chairman of The Watch Ashore a group of Merchant Naval wives, and I am also involved with the Merchant Navy Welfare Board. I am also a keen gardener and if I get any spare time, I enjoy walking our Hungarian Vizla dog and reading.

Chris Rankin MBE
Seafarers Link Project Manager