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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

The Mercantile Marine Reserve and the Royal Navy


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The query is in relation to a member the Mercantile Marine Reserve who served as a Fireman aboard HMS Richard Welford which was a tender to HMS Cormorant in WW1 and armed boarding steamer in Gibraltar. It was badly damaged in a German submarine attack. 




I am aware that part of 1835 Shipping Act was intended to create a central  register of all seamen who might be called upon to support the RN in wartime and that although the register was stopped in 1857, it was restarted again in 1914.   


Would I be right in assuming that the men in the register in 1914 were all volunteers in this respect?



Edited by Terry_Reeves
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I have always understood that the specific reason for setting up the October 1913 Central Registration of Merchant Seaman is not recorded.  Obviously, the previous registers were to assist in manning the Royal Navy in time of war but in those days the life and skills of the seamen in both services were very similar, the cessation of the Register in 1857 and the setting up of the RNR shortly afterwards is, in my view, no coincidence as by then the RN needed a much better trained band of seaman to call on in times of crisis a necessity with the fast changing ships and equipment then employed by the RN.

As this was still the situation by 1913 then the reason for the Registration of Merchant Seamen was possibly more to find out exactly how many men there were available to man the vast British Merchant Fleet, and how many might be available to fill the inevitable later demand by the RN.  Only my opinion but I feel the Register was just that and did not imply that the Merchant Seafarer was “volunteering” for any service elsewhere at that time.

As it was notoriously difficult to get Merchant Seamen to sign on and stay signed on a ship if they didn’t want to, jumping ship in Foreign ports for a better life or re-signing on a different ship was prevalent making keeping track of individuals almost impossible.  Many certainly did not become Registered distrusting the purpose, it is to me extraordinary that the Register lasted until 1941 when the Pool system of signing-on Merchant Seamen commenced.



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