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View Full Version : How a grateful nation paid its debt to merchant mariners



Rising Sun*
01-04-2009, 05:38 AM
Bastards!


The Battle of the Atlantic was in Churchill's words the Battle for Britain. Yet the front-line soldiers in this battle, those who were the targets of the German torpedoes, received no paid leave on returning to port and "if a man wished to spend time with his family, he had no alternative but to quit the ship and go off pay."14 In the recession-hit 1930's few officers would take this option fearing that in their absence they would be replaced.15 Even more astonishingly, under British law when a ship was sunk the obligations of the shipowner to pay the crew's wages went with it. Those fortunate to complete their Atlantic passages received their pay in full. Those whose ships went down, including the relatives of those killed, would, unless they were fortunate to work for one of the more philanthropic lines, only receive wages due up to the day of the sinking.16 The resentment caused by this is well expressed by Sidney Graham a London Eastender who served on several Atlantic and Arctic convoys and once spent 10 days in a lifeboat :


"...as soon as you got torpedoed on them ships your money was stopped right away. That's the truth. Everybody kicked up a bit 'cos you couldn't walk about with nothing in your pockets, could you, let's be fair - and all the rum shops were open! Only thing they give us was our clothes....we couldn't walk about naked, could we? Well, we felt devastated because you didn't think they'd ever treat you like that. Because they treated you like you were an underrated citizen, although you were doing your bit for your country, know what I mean? It's hard to think what you been through and what you were doing...and they treat you like that. What did we get? Didn't get no life, did we. I even had to fight for me pension, me state pension. "17

Despite protests by the seamen and their trade unions nothing was done to rectify this state of affairs until May 1941 when the Essential Work Order came into force (largely in response to growing shortages of seamen).18 Fourth Engineer Tom Purnell on the Canonesa was paid 15 10/- per month plus a war risk payment of 5 per month. For his last journey which began on 26th July and ended with his death late in the evening of the 21st September he was paid 38 19/- before deductions. His account of wages, signed by the ship's captain, gives the 'date wages began' as 26th Jul. 1940 and 'date wages ceased' as '21 Sep. 1940'. Not a penny more was paid than was strictly necessary. As one writer has put it :


"These were the men... upon whom Great Britain called for a life-line during the years of war, and these were the men whose contract ended when the torpedo struck. For the owners had protected their profits to the very end ; a seaman's wages ended when his ship went down, no matter where, how, or in what horror." http://homepage.ntlworld.com/annemariepurnell/can5.html

Meanwhile POWs in the armed services accumulated pay while in captivity, at times having taken no greater or even less risk than merchant seamen.

Richie B
01-05-2009, 01:40 PM
Bastards!

Indeed

Mk VII
01-05-2009, 02:46 PM
That's always been the case. The Titanic's crew stopped accumulating pay the night it sank.

Terry_214
01-05-2009, 05:23 PM
That don't make it right..........

gunner-B
01-07-2009, 11:14 PM
It wasn't the nation, it was the shipping companies.

Paul

Rising Sun*
01-07-2009, 11:44 PM
It wasn't the nation, it was the shipping companies.

Paul

True, but the merchant navy came under government control on the outbreak of war and its members were involved in transporting crucial war materials to aid the nation in prosecuting the war.

The shipping companies got the best of both worlds: profits from the transport of war goods and no liability to their sailors when the ship went down.

Schuultz
01-08-2009, 08:25 AM
True, but the merchant navy came under government control on the outbreak of war and its members were involved in transporting crucial war materials to aid the nation in prosecuting the war.

The shipping companies got the best of both worlds: profits from the transport of war goods and no liability to their sailors when the ship went down.

You'd expect that they'd at least get paid until they were returned to either their destination port or Britain...