Latest From The Watch Ashore

Watch Ashore raises its profile

social media training group
The Watch Ashore, an organisation established in 1933 to provide support for wives and partners of Merchant Navy officers, has turned to social media to raise its membership and campaign more effectively. With branches in six UK ports and membership around the country, providing mutual support for those whose loved ones are away at sea, Watch Ashore is launching a new website, a forum for its members and is reaching out to a younger generation with cheap and effective social media. Working with the Merchant Navy Welfare Board and with financial support from the Merchant Navy Fund, short training courses in the use of social media are being provided in a project that aims to help the organisation raise its profile, improve its outreach and increase its membership. Watch Ashore was founded 82 years ago when the Merchant Navy was suffering from the worst of the Great Depression. Providing support and friendship for “wives, widows, mothers, sisters and daughters of all Merchant Navy officers and anyone with an interest in the Merchant Navy”, it grew to sixteen branches around British ports. It also lobbied effectively over the years for reforms that would improve conditions for Merchant Navy personnel. Six branches are active today, in Plymouth, Southampton, Glasgow, London, Edinburgh and the Humber. Country members who do not live close to the branches are welcomed and there is a programme of meetings. The branches also help the maritime charity sector with fund-raising and other support. “The Watch Ashore is a valuable support network for all those whose loved ones are serving at sea, but we would greatly welcome more members who might benefit from belonging to our organisation”, comments Watch Ashore Chair Mrs Chris Rankin.  A busy social programme, soon backed up with the new website and forum will hopefully attract new members. Mrs Rankin added that there remain important reforms needed to make life better for serving seafarers and their families. Families for instance, were experiencing difficulty with the “hard line” being currently taken by head teachers over children being taken out of school when seafaring fathers were on leave in term time.  

Social Media Training

October 21st & 22nd 6 members of the National Watch Ashore will attend a seminar on Welfare Guidance & Signposting. This project is organized by the Merchant Navy Welfare Board.

Wreath Laying

Laying wreath
The National Chairman Mrs. Chris Ranking laid a wreath during the ceramony at Trinity Gardens on the 7th September 2014.

AGM Birmingham

The National AGM of the Watch Ashore was held in Birmingham early in May and 41 members representing five of the existing 6 branches from around the country enjoyed a weekend of fun and frolics.  Country members and a number of very brave husbands accompanied their wives and as always were warmly welcomed.  A coach trip was organised to the National Arboretum where members inspected the Watch Ashore bench that has been placed in the midst of the Memorial Merchant Navy wood. The bench was paid for by members to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Watch Ashore.  The Watch Ashore have been approached by the MN Welfare board to assist in a project to develop a system of support for current wives and partners uing social media and a proposal to go forward with this was discussed and carried at the AGM.  As the Vice Chairman stood down from office the Committee will continue without filling this post for the next year but will request nominations for this seat at the 2015 AGM.  The retiring Secretary was presented with gifts and flowers by the Chairman. The new encumbent was welcomed and given her badge of office.

The Annual National Service for Seafarers

Several members visited St Paul's Cathedral on the 12th October where Chris Rankin was invited, as National Chairman, to read the Watch Ashore prayer in recognition of the 80th anniversary of the founding of The Watch Ashore.  Chris is also to be congratulated on being awarded the Merchant navy Medal [Honorary] for her services to MN charities and welfare work.  This will be presented to her at Trinity House on Monday 25th November.

WA Memorial Bench

On retiring from the office of National Chairman, Mrs Margaret Gray chose as her charity the donating of a bench to the National Arboretum in Staffordshire. The bench was gifted in June 2013, and in September Mrs Gray visited the Arboretum to see the site of the bench which is situated in a clearing in the Merchant Navy Wood, planted with rows of little oak trees [over 2,500] representing all merchant ships sunk from the two world wars. Margaret worked hard to achieve the amount of £900 by her own efforts and with the help of donations from the branches.  

London AGM

The National AGM in London took place last weekend 12th to 14th April.  We celebrated our 80th birthday by beginning with a substantial Buffet/Carvery in the Strand Hotel on Friday evening where we were joined by our husbands and friends. This was a fun experience during which we were entertained by the Pearly Kings & Queens Society who work to raise money for many different charities. Some of their members leading us all in the 'Old time' songs.  The AGM itself was on Saturday morning and 59 members of the Watch ashore from across the UK listened to reports from each of the Branches.  We also discussed the possibility of continued mutual support for wives and partners of  working Merchant Navy personnel by reaching 'the younger generation' using IT technology, with the use of our Web site and with the help of the Merchant Navy Welfare Board and Seafarers UK.  We were pleased to present last years Chairman, Margaret Gray, with a cheque for £900 for the Bench and Tree at the National Arbouratum.  A Black Tie Dinner that evening was held at Trinity House.  We were honoured to receive a communication from Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal wishing us a happy birthday and an enjoyable meal.  The Revd. Canon Ken Peters from Mission to Seafarers said grace.  As Captain David Parsons of the Merchant Navy Welfare Board was unable to attend through illness, Captain John Rankin ably proposed the toast to the Merchant Navy. To which Mr Mark Longford FCH replied.  The toast to the Watch Ashore was given by Captain Chris Spencer, standing in for Mr Peter McEwen MBE who was also unwell and not able to attend. Amoung our guests were Katie Longford, and Alexander & Husband Robin Sard from Seafarers UK. We all had a superb meal in beautiful surroundings in spite of various hiccups. On the Sunday we rounded off the weekend with Afternoon Tea on HQS Wellington at Temple Stairs, where Captain John Freestone  and our Chairman Mrs Chris Rankin MBE cut the birthday cake with a long sword.  Our thanks are given to Nautilus International, Seafarers Uk, Navigators and General, and Trinity House for their generous support in easing our personal expenditure and making this AGM weekend possible.

Russian Convoy Medal

Our congratulations go to Gordon Bruty on being told he'll finally receive a very belated medal for his time with the Russian Convoys in WWII.  (His wife Jenny is a member of the Plymouth Branch)

Triennial Plymouth - May 2012

The National Triennial was held at the Holiday Inn, Plymouth 10th 11th 12th May 2012. As you can imagine the 2012 committee were tremendously thankful that their plotting and planning went off so well, that everyone enjoyed themselves, and that the crucial meeting was conducted in a cheerful spirit of moving forward to the needs of the next few years. The star of the show of course, was the weather. It was amazing that the three days of brilliant weather coincided so precisely with our celebrations. Monday morning, it was back to normal, cold, blustery and wet! We were so lucky. The welcome night was a great success. The room was all golden, lovely background music, Val Bugden-Cawsey had us in stitches, and Sue Vickery, Christine Payne and Joan Dodge did their modern seafaring version of 'Three little Maids', with words by Sue Vickery and Barbara Everett. A very sunny morning for the Civic Reception in the Council Chambers, where the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress chatted to everybody. The Lord Mayor spoke about loosing his big brother at sea in WW2 and only left after being chivied by Steve the Macebearer at 12 o'clock. No time then for shopping before lunch! But with the good weather a number of our members were able to walk around the Hoe and Barbican in the afternoon. The Dinner went well, the tables resplendent with all the colourfully wrapped gifts, the food was good, speeches likewise with a wonderful Toast to the City by the Plymouth Chairman, Helen Crofts. Mike Sutherland, retired Harbour Master of Falmouth Docks, received two cheques, each for £700, from Sue Vickery, for the National and, in particular, the Falmouth Branch of the Missions to Seafarers. This had been Sue's National Chairman's charity which was collected over 3 years by the Branches. The Raffle also did very well. A great deal was sorted out in the Council Meeting so that by the Triennial Meeting Pat Warren and the Glasgow Branch withdrew their motions because they were similar to those of the Plymouth Branch and would have caused many amendments. So with a few minor changes the Plymouth motions were carried and also that a postal vote for motions should be allowed in the future. There will be a redraft of Rule 4. Chris Rankin took over as National Chairman and following the earlier motion, Mary Pounder was proposed from the floor and became Vice Chairman. Sandra Walker, after six years service handed over the purse strings to Helen Rendle. It was agreed that, as next year is the 80th Anniversary of the WA, and the propsed venue is London, an Executive member would be needed. As there were no volunteers Judy Slator agreed to continue for one more year. The meeting finished in good time and after a buffet lunch in the Penthouse, with that magnificent view of the Hoe and Sound, the coach left for Charlestown. Two Tall Ships were in the harbour and members reported that they had enjoyed the Museum and could have spent more time there! Some of us just collapsed in the sunshine with a cup of tea! The Bosun's Diner, of which we had some doubts as it had just changed hands, put on an excellent, fresh and light pork supper and on our return to the Holiday Inn some of us still had the stamina to party! The Watch Ashore was well represented by Branch members at the Morning Service in the Minster Church of St. Andrew. Chris Rankin, as our new National Chairman, read a lesson. The congregation sang 'For those in peril on the sea' and the Vicar of St. Andrew's read the Watch Ashore Prayer. If that is to be the last Triennial Meeting we went out on a high and put on a memorable event. We should be relieved and very proud that it all went off so well, and all take a pat on the back for our fund raising and hard work..


The National AGM was held at the Holiday Inn, Tadcaster Road, York on the 15th and 16th April 2011. After being warmly welcomed by the Nat. Executive Committee in the afternoon the branches met up together for the first evening entertainment. A most enjoyable buffet meal was followed by a very talented entertainer, Judith Hibbert who had performed at our previous Triennial in Hull, and had been a great hit with the ladies on that occasion. She treated us again and, as she described it, as an affectionate tribute to some of our greats such as Gracie Fields, Joyce Grenville and many more with the aid of a trunk containing a selection of various props such as a wonderful variety of hats! The room just filled with laughter the whole time she performed. Formal dinner group photo with Mark Longford and his wife Kate The buffet evening always gives the members the chance to catch up with each other's news and as usual there was no shortage of conversation! The AGM meeting was held on the Saturday morning and as well as the normal business there was a good discussion on other topics such as the growing trend of worldwide piracy being a particular concern. The rest of the day was free for the ladies to explore York's many attractions and to do some serious shopping! Later the ladies met up for the wine reception followed by the formal dinner with our main guest speaker, Mr Mark Longford, Operations Manager of the Navigators and General  Insurance Company. Through researching his company's history involving a certain Captain H. Coombs he discovered the link between the Navigators, as it's affectionately known, and The Watch Ashore as Captain Coomb's wife Irene had helped found it. The company is celebrating its ninetieth anniversary this year 2011 and so this was an opportunity to celebrate together, especially with a gifted glass of champagne each! Mark Longford's speech was a fascinating insight into the history of Captain Coombs and the setting up of the Navigators which did so much to help improve extremely difficult conditions in the Merchant Navy especially in the 1920s. The speech can be read in full on On the Sunday morning the members were taken by coach to Castle Howard, an 18th century house situated in 1000 acres of beautiful parkland with temples, statues lakes and fountains. During the visit the group enjoyed a Victorian Etiquette Afternoon Tea finishing with tea leaf readings which held a few surprises! Nat. Chairman Margaret Gray handing over floral arrangement to Mr Mark Longford at formal dinner. On returning to the hotel later in the afternoon farewells were made to those returning home that day while a few remained to stay an extra night. General opinion was it had been a very successful weekend and The Watch Ashore now looks forward to our Triennial in Plymouth on the 10th 11th 12th May next year 2012 which promises to be yet another special Triennial. Download Captain William H. Coombs and ‘The Navigators’ based on a talk given to members and guests of The Watch Ashore to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Navigators & General on 1 March 2011. (Mark Longford FCII, Operations Manager, Navigators & General. Spring 2011) >>


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