Turnout adds to emotion as merchant seafarers remembered

From left: Gordon Abernethy, Bob Miller, John Manning and Diana Manning at Campbeltown War Memorial on Merchant Navy Day.
From left: Gordon Abernethy, Bob Miller, John Manning and Diana Manning at Campbeltown War Memorial on Merchant Navy Day.

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A former seaman who is usually joined only by his wife as he commemorates Merchant Navy Day was overwhelmed by this year’s turnout following an appeal in the Courier.

John Manning, 89, who was a fourth engineer officer in the Merchant Navy, became emotional as he thanked all those who joined him and his wife Diana as he placed a wreath at the foot of the town’s cenotaph last Friday, September 3.

The Red Ensign, the flag of British merchant ships, was flown from the top of Campbeltown's Old Quay in honour of Merchant Navy Day.
The Red Ensign, the flag of British merchant ships, was flown from the top of Campbeltown’s Old Quay in honour of Merchant Navy Day.

Among those present to remember the sacrifices of merchant seafarers in the two world wars and the years since was 99-year-old Bob Miller.

Bob, who is originally from Ayrshire but has lived in Campbeltown for more than 50 years, served in the Merchant Navy during World War II and the Korean War of the 1950s.

During his service, Bob travelled the world, sailing through the Panama Canal 12 times and through the Suez Canal 10 times, as well as visiting far flung places including New Zealand.

He was also in the Japanese city Hiroshima while it was still being rebuilt, a few years after the Atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.

Stuart Lawson, who relocated to Campbeltown with his wife in February this year, attended the event in memory of his father, James Lawson, who served as a radio officer in the Merchant Navy during World War II.

John Manning and Stuart Lawson, who attended the commemoration in memory of his late father.
John Manning and Stuart Lawson, who attended the commemoration in memory of his late father.

Stuart said Merchant Navy Day ‘should not go unnoticed’ as it is important to remember the service of people like his father, who was awarded a posthumous medal which Stuart and his family accepted at Holyrood a number of years ago.

John, a Cornwall native now living in Drumlemble, shared his own story of how he came to earn one of his medals.

When a tanker he was on caught fire, John ignored safety protocols to rescue the second mate’s wife. The pair were forced to crawl out during their escape to avoid thick smoke.

‘We were lucky to survive,’ John said, ‘the ship was loaded with cargo and could have exploded at any point.’

John Manning places his wreath at the foot of Campbeltown War Memorial on Merchant Navy Day.
John Manning places his wreath at the foot of Campbeltown War Memorial on Merchant Navy Day.

Merchant Navy Day is particularly poignant for John as he was one of just four men to survive an explosion which killed almost 70 of their merchant sailor colleagues. The survivors spent 15 hours in the water before being rescued.

Retired Royal Navy commanding officer Gordon Abernethy, from Carradale, who was a commander of HMS Campbeltown, also turned out on Friday to show support to others who served on the sea.

John Manning's Merchant Navy Day wreath.
John Manning’s wreath was placed to honour the service of all merchant seafarers.

The merchant marine service was given the title of Merchant Navy by King George V at the end of World War I in recognition of the role it played in the logistical supply of food, munitions and manpower in the ‘war to end all wars’.

It was not until 1999 that the government created an official memorial day in honour of the Merchant Navy.