"For you, the war is over!"
Merchant Navy Prisoners of War in the Second World War
Merchant Navy Day is celebrated on 3 September, to commemorate the contribution the merchant navy has made, and continues to make, to Britain. With so much to cover, this small online exhibition highlights merchant navy Prisoners of War (POWs) during the Second World War, who were not given the recognition awarded their colleagues in the armed forces.
During the Second World War many Prisoners of War were issued with Wartime Logs from the YMCA, a hardback volume to act as their personal journal to fill as they liked. The Maritime Archives and Library is fortunate enough to hold a few examples of these volumes which catalogue the humour, boredom, ingenuity, fear and hunger of the men.
Click on the thumbnails below to see extracts from the volume belonging to Peter Rogan (1921-1992) which was kindly donated to the Maritime Archives & Library in 2010.
Second World War
Britain's ability to survive and wage war was dependent on food and materials being imported by sea and this was obvious to the opposing forces, who targeted the British and Allied merchant navies. Statistically more merchant seaman were killed than in any branch of the armed forces, nearly one in four over the course of the war.
For the British Merchant Navy in the Second World War, battle commenced as soon as war was declared. Germany had already deployed its U-Boat fleet in readiness and on 3 September 1939, within hours of war being declared, the Donaldson Line vessel Athenia was sunk, one of fourteen merchant navy losses within the first week. The crew of the trawler Caldew were the first merchant seamen to be taken as Prisoners of War when attacked by U-33 on 27 September 1939.
Merchant Navy Prisoners of War
The British Merchant Navy at that time staffed by a large and diverse group of men and by the end of the Second World War more than 5,000 Allied merchant seamen of 29 different nationalities were held as Prisoners of War.
While some seamen were taken prisoner by the Japanese (the Maritime Archives & Library holds documents relating to Henry Scurr, MBE, reference DX/2472 and Robert Jones, reference DX/2406), the vast majority were captured by the German Navy and spent most of their captivity at Milag Nord camp, near Bremen in Northern Germany.