Chairman’s Red Ensign honours courageous merchant seafarers

The Red Ensign was hoisted at Old County Hall in Aylesbury this morning (Tuesday September 3) to honour the country’s mercantile mariners.

Buckinghamshire County Council Chairman Brian Roberts ceremonially raised the flag to mark national Merchant Navy Day. And with him was veteran seaman Norman Brookes, who joined the Merchant Navy in January 1944 at the age of 16.

Norman, now 91, and living in Chalfont St Peter, served on the Highland Brigade (RMS), a convoy ship that travelled with frigates and destroyers while transporting troops and cargo to many different parts of the world during World War II. Norman’s ship was in New York on VJ Day.

Brian said: “It was an honour to have Norman with us to help raise the Red Ensign. Flying this flag is our tribute to his sea-going successors – the men and women of our Merchant Navy whose seafaring skills bring us 90% of our imports, and that includes half the food we eat.”

September 3 was chosen as Merchant Navy Day because on this day 80 years ago in 1939 – the first day of World War II – the SS Athenia was the first merchant ship to be torpedoed with the loss of 128 passengers and crew.

Brian said the country’s prosperity had depended on the Merchant Navy since international trade began. “During the two world wars we realised that as an island nation, without the courageous service of these seafarers, we would soon have been starved of food and other essentials. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.”

Following a prayer for the Merchant Navy, by the Rector of Aylesbury, the Rev Doug Zimmerman, the Chairman read a message from Prince Edward, President of Seafarers UK.

Shoppers and passers-by joined the civic party, including Julia Upton, High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, to witness the brief ceremony marking the sacrifice and saluting the courage of mercantile seafarers past and present.