Thursday, 9 May 2013


As someone brought up in a Port town, with a grandfather and uncles who served in the merchant navy, one way and another the Battle of the Atlantic was a silent companion through my childhood years - this would probably apply to anyone of my generation who grew up in any Welsh port. With merchant sailors turned Dockers for relatives, I was aware form a young age, admittedly via understandably watered down stories and tales of the sea (and later of the war at sea), that some of my family members had been involved in something called the "Battle of the Atlantic" and they were some of the ones who made it back home.

The name "Battle of the Atlantic" was itself coined by Winston Churchill (in February 1941) and described the "longest, largest, and most complex" naval battle in history. The campaign began immediately after the European war began, lasted six years with barely a let up and involved thousands of ships. There were more than 100 convoy battles and also perhaps over 1,000 single-ship encounters, in a theatre of war that covered thousands of square miles of ocean. 

Over 30,000 men from the Merchant Navy lost their lives between 1939–1945. More than 2,400 British ships were sunk. The ships were crewed by sailors from all over the then British Empire, with sailors from India and China (25%), and  from the West Indies, Middle East and Africa (5%). The Allies gradually gained the upper hand, overcoming surface raiders (by the end of 1942( and the U-boats (by mid-1943), although losses to U-boats continued to war's end.

This costly fight was a victory for the Allies, without their costly victory with some 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships being sunk. Without this hard one victory it is quite possible that the liberation of Europe would have been delayed if not postponed and D-day would probably not have happened when it did.

So rightly, yesterday the battle of the Atlantic is being remembered and commemorated on the 70th anniversary of the climax of the battle (May 1943), when the corner was turned.  Further commemorations are to take place in London between 8th  and 13th  May, in Derry between 10th  and 12th  May, and in Liverpool between 24th  and 27th May.

When we finally end up with a maritime museum for the South East preferably in Newport (as part of the National Museum), aside from containing the restored remains of the ‘Newport Ship’ and the Barlands farm Romano-Celtic boat, there should be a gallery that focuses on the Merchant Navy (and it’s place in our history) which includes amongst them being the lifeboat from the Anglo-Saxon. This should be a lasting and permanent dedicated memorial to those quiet heroes and also to those who never came back to tell their tales. 

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