Latest From The Watch Ashore

Annual National Seafarers Service

Watch Ashore members from London, Hull and Plymouth Branches travelled to the Annual Seafarers Service which was held in St Paul's Cathedral. In1905 Captain Hubbard suggested that the centenary of the death of Nelson would be a fitting occasion for the inauguration of an annual seaman’s service in St Paul's and the first service was held in October of that year. The Annual National Service for Seafarers is a great event and this year celebrated 200 years of the Royal Yacht Squadron, 150 years The Royal Alfred Seafarers' Society and 100 years of the London Nautical School.  After the service our National Chairman, Chris Rankin, and Vice Chairman, Sue Williams, joined the London branch members onboard the HQS Wellington for a celebratory dinner.  

Merchant Navy Day

One of our members wrote to her local MSP about the Seafarers UK #redensign campaign and below is the reply she received.   Many thanks to MSP Dave Thomson for his support to the #redensign and the Merchant Navy. "Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. We thought it might be better to respond when we had something concrete to tell you.    Dave has since submitted a Motion on Merchant Navy Day (3rd September) acknowledging the sacrifices made by the Merchant navy and also highlighting the great work that the men and women of the Merchant Navy still do all around the world. We also put out a press release to this effect yesterday so it might be worth having a look at the Highland papers today – maybe one or two will have picked up on the release.   The Motion in full is below. A link to the Parliament website is underneath and a copy of the press release is at the very bottom:   Motion S4M-13942: Dave Thompson, Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 13/08/2015 That the Parliament is aware of Merchant Navy Day, which will take place on 3 September 2015; acknowledges the campaign by Seafarers UK to celebrate the day by flying the Red Ensign, the Merchant Navy’s official flag; notes calls for MSPs to remember the sacrifices, salute the courage and support the future of the Merchant Navy; celebrates the time of John Thompson, father of Dave Thompson MSP, in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War as a ship's baker, circumnavigating the globe, taking part in Atlantic convoys, being torpedoed in the Mediterranean but surviving throughout the entire war; understands that northern men, in particular, were much sought after in the Merchant fleet due to their seafaring traditions; recognises Scotland’s ancient seafaring and trading tradition, and appreciates what it considers the great work that the men and women of the Merchant Navy still do all around the world. “Merchant Navy Day Welcomed by MSP   Dave Thompson, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has welcomed Merchant Navy Day which will take place on 3 September 2015 and has tabled a motion calling on the Scottish Parliament to acknowledge the campaign by Seafarers UK to celebrate the day by flying the Red Ensign, the Merchant Navy’s official flag.   Mr Thompson said,   “I call upon the Parliament to acknowledge Merchant Navy Day and urge MSPs to remember the sacrifices of our merchant sea men, as we salute their courage and support the future of the Merchant Navy.   “My own father, John, was in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War as a ship's baker, travelling all around the world, taking part in Atlantic convoys, and he survived being torpedoed in the Mediterranean. Northern men in particular were much sought after in the Merchant fleet due to their searfaring traditions which be recognised and celebrated as we show official appreciation to Scotland's ancient seafaring and trading tradition".  


With Merchant Navy Day being celebrated this week and Seafarers being thanked and remembered for their sacrifice I thought it would be appropriate to share this story.   Many thanks to Brenda for allowing us to tell her story. After placing an advert in the Sea Breezes magazine asking if anyone had sailed with my father on either the Stakesby or the Gloucester City, I was delighted to receive two replies. The first was from George Crawley who lived in Hull. He said that if I came to Hull he would be pleased to meet me.  We arranged to meet and he had prepared tea and cakes for my visit, just as his wife would have done he said (his wife was in poor health and was in respite care). George told me that he and my father had been young officers on the Stakesby right at the beginning of the war in 1939. They were anchored in Newport Wales and had a drink on their off duty time and that my father liked a Guinness.   I had obtained the log book of the Stakesby with my father's name mentioned and had brought a copy with me.  George recognised many of the names and he showed me photos of the ships that he had sailed on.  He also had a beautiful ship's wheel and anchor in his garden.  I expect when I had gone he spent more times with his memories and I was so pleased that the advert in the Sea Breezes had also given another seafarer pleasurable memories. A few weeks later I received a letter from a Captain Petersen who lived in Cornwall.  He had served with my father on the Gloucester City and told me that my father had a fine intellect and given to serve in the best tradition of the Merchant Navy.  I was so proud to hear that. It was Remembrance week when I first visited Ken, as I came to know him.  We went to the British Legion for a drink and whilst there a young man heard us talking about the Gloucester City.  He said he remembered her because his father used to load her as she was then taking ammunitions to France.   We went to the dockside and one of the ships was leaving port so we stood and put our poppies on the water as the ship sailed away, in remembrance of my father's ship. Ken told me in their off duty time they would go to a small cafe for a meal, he didn't think it would be there now, however we discovered it and although larger it was owned by a young couple.  Ken told them the story about their meal there all those years ago and that they used to have a glass of Benedictine after their meal.  The young man then produced a bottle of Benedictine and said we should raise our glasses to Mrs Harrison's father who should have been here with us.  I thanked him for that lovely thoughtful gesture.   I feel rather sad when I think of it. Ken also took me to Fowey where the ship used to load up and I stood for a while where he (my father) would have as they loaded the ship.  He told me that they often went ashore in Brest and that my father spoke fluent French.  Something else I learned about him.  Like many thousands who have lost their dads I often wished over the years that I could have known him and been able to talk to him.  Being only 6 yrs old when he died I never had that pleasure.  However, thanks to the advert in the Sea Breezes I at least got to meet those who knew my father and had only good words to say about him.  

Campaign to Fly the Red Ensign for Merchant Navy Day

HRH The Earl of Wessex Supports Campaign to Fly the Red Ensign for Merchant Navy Day, 3rd September 2015 Seafarers UK is calling on Local Authorities throughout Britain to celebrate Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September by flying the Red Ensign - the UK Merchant Navy’s official flag - on public buildings and landmark flagstaffs. The charity’s president, HRH The Earl of Wessex, has endorsed the campaign, saying: ‘On this Merchant Navy Day, I very much hope you will support this campaign by Seafarers UK to remember the sacrifices, salute the courage and support the future of the often unsung personnel of our Merchant Navy.’ ‘Fly the Red Ensign for Merchant Navy Day’ is supported by the Merchant Navy Association, whose members will be invited to attend local ceremonies at 10am on Thursday 3rd September, when the Red Ensign is to be hoisted as the message of support from The Earl of Wessex is read out by civic dignitaries. A guide to purchasing a Red Ensign and taking part on Merchant Navy Day is available to read and download at  


At this time of year most people associate airports with going on holiday.  For our family airports have always brought mixed emotions. The downside is when you are driving your husband there to catch a flight to join his ship.  You try to stay calm and cheerful and not think of how long it will be before you are together again.  Once the check in is over you hope there will be no hold-ups  as it is hard enough without  any delays prolonging the agony of saying goodbye.  Now I know where the saying “the long goodbye” comes from.   Once the boarding pass is in their hands their minds turn to what am I going out to, how long a handover will I get etc.  Everyone is trying hard not to show that they are upset and in the end you act like you can’t wait to get rid of him!    I used to wait until the plane took off before heading home or to be truthfully, for a little bit of retail therapy!  Nothing cheers you up more than a new outfit or two – then when he comes home and asks is that new? You can truthfully say no I have had that for ages!  Got caught out one time as he was sent home after a few weeks - in fact he was home before the Visa bill came in!   I seem to have spent most of my married life trying to clear the Visa and lose two stones in weight before he arrived back.  It has always been a running joke between us.   Then the other extreme -  The Arrival.      Can you relate to the stomach churning excitement, the anticipation, the anxiety in case they missed their flight?  In the few days before they arrive home you have worked like a Trojan making the house shines like a new pin (real reason you do that is so the time passes quickly) doesn’t matter that as soon as they step in the door the place is like a disaster zone!  We were always at the airport too early but it all added to the excitement.  Daft thoughts run though your mind – will he recognise me, will he still find me attractive or worse will I recognise him!!   Of course all this flies out the window when you get a glimpse of him.  As usual he is almost last off the plane and by this time you have convinced yourself that he missed the flight!  That hello kiss and cuddle is just magical and you can’t stop grinning like a Cheshire cat - just like falling in love all over again.  

Race for Life

One of our Watch Ashore members’ is doing her bit for Cancer Research.  I am running Race for Life in Scarborough on 15th July, I have set up a just giving page and thought if anyone who knows me might like to sponsor me.  I have run this race for 8 years with a friend, like hundreds of other women I feel very passionate about this race but don't usually ask for sponsors.  I must admit doesn't sit too comfortably with me, people knowing I'm trying to run, but putting all that aside it's for one of the best causes I know.  The camaraderie on the day the support of the crowds make me think in my head I could do a marathon, feet legs and body say don't be so bl...y daft!! 

York AGM

Our Annual Meeting was attended by 40 odd members representing our branch and country membership. Members travelled from as far apart as the Scottish Highlands and Cornwall.   Friday was our arrival day and our get together that evening was very relaxed and informal with lots of chat and laughter. We enjoyed a trip down memory lane with a DVD show of our 80th Anniversary celebrations followed by a very competitive Quiz. It is always good to catch up with everyone, renew old friendships and make new ones. Saturday morning was our Business meeting and we had the pleasure of a short talk from Deanne Thomas of the Sailors Children Society. Our organisations share many common interests and it is hoped to work more closely in the future.   Sue Williams of Plymouth branch was voted in as National Vice Chairman, a very popular choice.   It was a very productive meeting with lots of healthy discussion on subjects such as Seafarers Wellbeing, using Social Media and promoting the Watch Ashore. That evening we had a wine reception followed by dinner where Captain David Parsons and his wife were our guests. It was a very lively and entertaining evening and thoroughly enjoyed by all. Sunday we had an outing to Beningborough Hall and in the usual Watch Ashore luck the weather stayed dry.   All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel and say our farewells until next year.

Annual Meeting

This weekend fifty of our members will be in York for our Annual National meeting.   It is always a great weekend full of fun and laughter meeting up with old friends and catching up with each others' news.   It is amazing how quickly you pick up from when you last met and soon the room is filled with chatter and laughter.  It is a very informal evening and a nice way to start our weekend as many of us have travelled that day from various parts of the UK.  Saturday morning we have our general meeting when we hear about all the things that the various branches have done in the past year.  We also get a report from the National Chairman telling us about the various events that she has represented us at.   All the ladies love a bit of shopping and sightseeing so we make sure that we have plenty of “free time” to enjoy the local attractions and do your own thing.   The dinner on the Saturday evening is a bit more formal in as much as we have a wine reception beforehand and usually a guest speaker.  The formality doesn’t stop the fun and laughter and the comments we always get from guests is that they have never met such a happy group. We do enjoy getting together and these annual weekends are such an important part of maintaining this friendship and support for each other.  We are all very individual with different likes and dislikes but what we have in common is the seafaring bond and it is just lovely to be with people who are in a similar situation.  It is like having “me time” where you can just relax in nice surroundings with good company – not forgetting a bottle of wine or two! If you think this circle of friendship and support is for you then please get in touch we would be delighted to meet you.   You can send in the enquiry/contact form and we will respond within 24hrs and if you are near York this weekend why not come and meet us.  


~~A very important part of life for a seafaring family is communication, whether it is talking to each other, through email or phone calls.  When my husband was at sea, we didn’t have access to email and phone calls were via satellite and only used on special occasions.   We did use mobiles but that became so expensive (some months our bill was hundreds of pounds, and when you hear their voice you don’t think of how much it is costing) Now that wasn’t in the dark ages but communications have came a long way with nearly everyone having a Smartphone, I pad etc so people are more or less used to instant contact.  Reverting back to pre – instant communication, I loved my letters and there was something magical about getting a bunch of letters at the one time.  My husband numbered the back of the envelopes so I would know in what order to read them, and I kept all his letters until he arrived home on leave.  When our children came along they too got their postcards and letters.  Depending on where the ship was going sometimes you could have four to six weeks between letters.  That’s when you re read the previous ones time and time again.  We did have a lovely collection of stamps and our geography did improve!   My husbands’ trips were usually for six months and if the ship was on a set run I had the proposed dates and agents addresses of where to send his mail.  This is when the numbered letters were practical – sometimes the mail would miss him and poor soul had to hope that the agent would forward it to the next port.  Not all countries had an efficient postal service!   My husband changed shipping companies and although his trips weren’t much shorter – this time his mail went via the office in Southampton and they forwarded it with the company’s mail.   When we were able to email (via the ship) I felt as if we had lost some of the intimacy that you get in letters.  Oh you could still say how much you loved and missed them and give them all the family news but the very personal stuff you didn’t express.   Now with younger seafaring families they (not all) can have access to Skype, email and phone calls and does it make life any easier?  Sometimes you can get frustrated with poor connections, or feel as if they have sounded uninterested in your conversation, get annoyed if they seem to be enjoying themselves too much!   A very positive side I have seen is that when my son in law was working in India for a month, my grandchildren spoke to him via Skype every evening, and although they missed him greatly, they coped very well and he still felt involved in their everyday life.  So you see no matter which method is available to you, keep communicating and remember to say how much you love and miss them.  


Well done Chris on hosting a very successful fundraiser for Seafarers UK . Thank you all who supported the fashion Drop In by Studio Two and thank you Brenda for all your hard work to make the event such a success. The weather was great too, especially eating our pasties from Dashers outside in the garden.


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