Celebrated annually around the world, Merchant Navy Day (3rd September) remembers the Merchant Seafarers who died in WWI, WWII and in subsequent conflicts up to the current day.1
On Sunday 1st September 2013, Merchant Navy Day was celebrated in Huntingdon with a small ceremony taking place outside of the Huntingdonshire Council Headquarters. The Chairman of Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC), Councillor Barbara Boddington, and Colonel Derek Bristow OBE2 invited seafarers from the Royal and Merchant Naval services (including the Royal Naval Association), civic dignitaries and representatives from the local community and associations.
In addition, Standard Bearers from the Royal Naval Association (RNA), Royal Air Force Association (RAFA), and the Royal British Legion (RBL) were invited to attend the ‘Raising of the Red Duster’ ceremony outside of the Council HQ, Pathfinder House. Shipmate Karl Webb, Hon. Secretary for Huntingdon & District Branch, represented the RNA as our Standard Bearer was unable to attend due to last-minute work commitments.
Colonel Derek Bristow called all guests to gather in front of the HDC Flagpole where the Red Duster had been laid out ready for the ceremony. Derek explained that the ceremony is in remembrance to all seafarers, and he thanked the Chair of HDC for supporting and hosting this annual event.
The Chair of HDC, Barbara Boddington then welcomed all guests and thanked them for attending.
In the absence of a Padre, Lt Cdr Sally Whitehead, based at RAF Wyton, was asked to read a prayer and blessing for seafarers past, present and future.
After the prayer, it was time to ‘raise the red duster’ by the Chair of HDC and Colonel Bristow. The usual mark of respect was paid with the lowering of association Standards.
With the Red Duster flying above Castle Hill House, the Wartime HQ of the RAF Pathfinder Force, Colonel Bristow gave a short speech on the background of the Red Ensign for the Merchant Navy, he said that it was flown by Admiral Nelson3, but after the Red, White, and Blue ensigns were assigned to the Merchant Navy, Royal Navy and Civilian vessels years later, they ‘kept it’ and will not let the Royal Navy have it back.
Derek thanked Lt Cdr Sally Whitehall for standing in for the Padre at short notice; he also thanked everyone for ‘not commenting’ on his recent nose operation.
With the short ceremony drawing to a close, the Chair of HDC invited guest to attend a small reception in Pop Bellies, a local restaurant in Huntingdon High Street.
- Sailor’s Sociaety Website (2013) Merchant Navy Days 2013, [online] Available from: http://www.sailors-society.org/events/merchant-navy-day-commemoration-service-worldwide/ [accessed 3 September 2013]. [↩]
- Col Bristow is the Chief Executive of the Federation of Merchant Mariners and the Chairman of the Cambridgeshire Merchant Naval Association (in addition to his role as Deputy lord Lieutenant for Cambridgeshire). See the Federation of Merchant Mariners website at: http://www.merchant-mariners.co.uk/whowear.php [↩]
- The Red, White, and Blue ensigns were flown by Admirals, Vice Admirals, and Rear Admiral in order of seniority – for more information see: http://www.royalnavalmuseum.org/info_sheet_squadron_colours.htm Nelson was actually a Vice Admiral of the White when he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. The use of different ensigns to depict seniority was stopped in 1864. [↩]