PMNM logo

Plymouth MN Monument FAQs

This page will be moving shortly

New Plymouth MN Monument FAQ Page location

The official unveiling by HRH The Princess Royal took place on Tuesday 3rd September 2019,
Merchant Navy Day.

Our heartfelt thanks to all the individuals and organisations that have helped us bring this project to a successful conclusion.

If you are in or near Plymouth, do come and visit the Monument
and pay your respects to the men and women who are serving or who have served in the Merchant Navy.

Frequently asked Questions

There is already an MN Memorial in Plymouth, why another?

The present memorial, dated 1995, is just over 1metre high by 0.25 metres wide, set into a wall over 2 metres above a narrow pavement adjacent to the beginning of Madeira Road.
This is a main route between the Barbican, West Hoe and Millbay and which runs around the Sound, below Plymouth Hoe.

MN Memorial, Barbican, close up

Close up of MN Memorial on Plymouth Barbican.

MN Memorial, Barbican, view

MN Memorial on Plymouth Barbican, view across road.

"To remember all those of the Merchant Navy who died in war and peace.
31,442 merchant seafarers died 1939-1945"

Over the years this location has proved unsatisfactory for holding services of remembrance and similar.
There have been complaints from the local traders and police about the highway becoming blocked during these events.

Why "Monument" rather than "Memorial"?

The use of the word monument rather than memorial is deliberate as it widens the purpose from being solely a place of remembrance to those who have gone before to a celebration of all those involved in civilian maritime activities.

The words "all who serve, or who have served" is totally inclusive of those of other nationalities who have served under the British merchant flags, be they red or blue.

The Fishing Fleet is mentioned specifically but recreational sailors are also included, reminding us of their involvement of rescues at sea and in operations like the movement of troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940.

Other MN memorials and monuments exist around the UK, why another in Plymouth?

Plymouth's heritage has a long history of connection with seafaring generally that continues to this day.
As an example the Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus possibly identifies Mount Batten as a trading post for tin in the First Century BC
Through the years many of these migrating to Canada, Australia and New Zealand left from Plymouth. The "Mayflower" departed Plymouth in September,1620, carrying the Pilgrim Fathers whilst surviving members of the crew of the "Titanic" were landed from "Lapland" in Plymouth, in secrecy, in 1912.

Plymouth is one of the few UK cities from which one of the world's iconic offshore rock lighthouses, the Eddystone Light, some 13 miles away, can be usually seen from locations around the city, even from pavement level.

The fourth and present Eddystone Lighthouse can usually be seen from the intended site of the monument and indeed Smeaton's Tower, the third lighthouse, has been re-erected on Plymouth Hoe just a few meters away from the planned site.

Tankers, cargo ships, ferries and cruise ships can regular be seen in Plymouth Sound as well as fishing boats, naval auxiliaries and other more specialised merchant shipping.

Plymouth is consistently in listed amongst the three busiest fishing ports in England usually with nearby Brixham and Newlyn.

There is a strong element of maritime training in the city, through both the University and other, private, establishments.

The Plymouth RNLI lifeboat station is one of the busiest in the area.

Is this just another war memorial?

No. The primary UK Merchant Navy War memorial is in Tower Hill Gardens in London, outside Trinity House.

MN Tower Hill Memorial

This commemorates all the known on British seafarers that were lost at sea during the two World Wars and having no known grave.
There are about 36,000 names inscribed on the panels.

There are other specific war memorials around the UK such as the RFA Falklands Memorial at Marchwood, Southampton.

RFA Falklands Memorial The merchant container ship "Atlantic Conveyor" sailed from Plymouth on her final voyage for the Falkland Islands where she was sunk by an Exocet missile. Twelve crew members, including her Master, were killed.

In the past many merchant seafarers were taken into military service by press gangs, being highly sought after because of their skills.
Even today many merchant seamen serve in the naval reserve providing specialty back up to the professional military forces.

However, many other merchant seafarer have lost their lives or been injured at sea in other ways.

Some have been killed in wars in which the UK was not part of; examples are the Vietnam War and various civil wars around the world which all have had merchant trade continuing in the area as the both warring factions and civilians needed food, fuel and other supplies.

Other seafarers have died or been injured through piracy which is still endemic around many parts of the world.
Piracy has existed in the local area from at least the third century BC.

The Sea is a dangerous environment to work in.
Many ships have disappeared without trace, even in this modern day and age.

One example of a British ship that was lost with all her crew was the Derbyshire, built in 1976 as "Liverpool Bridge", which was overwhelmed by heavy weather and sea in "Typhoon Orchid" south of Japan on 9th September 1980.
Liverpool Bridge

All 44 seafarers on board (42 crew plus 2 wives) were lost.

The "Derbyshire" (91,655 gross register tons) was over 294 m long was loaded with a cargo of 157,446 tonnes of iron ore when she was lost - the largest British ship ever to have been lost at sea.
Her wreck was not found until September 1994, fourteen years after she foundered.

Liverpool Museum's feature on the sinking of the Derbyshire

Not all losses are due to heavy weather:

On 11th May 1982 the British cargo ship "Royston Grange" with 74 people on board (61 crew, 12 passengers, who included six women and a five-year-old child, and an Argentinean Harbour pilot), was bound from Buenos Aires to London with a cargo of chilled and frozen beef and butter.
As she traversed the Punta Indio Channel, 35 miles from Montevideo, Uruguay, she was in collision with a loaded oil tanker, the "Tien Chee".

All those on board "Royston Grange" were killed in the ensuing fire.

Royston Grange

An Argentinean report on the Royston Grange disaster.

On 3rd June 1993 the "British Trent" had just dropped her pilot after loading about 25,000 tonnes of gasoline in Antwerp.
As she started to pick up speed again she was hit by the "Western Winner". In the engulfing fire nine seafarers from the "British Trent" died.

A report on the British Trent accident .

A new VLCC "Marpessa" had an explosion on 12 December 1969 whilst tank cleaning, the vessel caught fire and sank - 2 crew members were killed.

Marpessa sinking

On 27 December 1969 "Matra", a sister ship to the "Marpessa" had a similar explosion whilst tank cleaning.
Although there was a severe fire and the ship had to be abandoned apart from a few volunteers, the fire was eventually extinguished and vessel stayed afloat - 2 crew members were killed.

On December 19th 1981 the engines of the "Union Star" failed in heavy seas off the south coast of Cornwall.
The Penlee lifeboat, "Solomon Browne", was launched to assist.
However in the very rough weather both vessels sank and all 16 seafarers, from both vessels, were drowned.

Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne.
Penlee Lifeboat website account of the disaster.

Why on the Hoe? Why not on the Barbican?

The memorial on the Barbican is easy to miss when passing and is now unsuitable as a focus for events.

Plymouth Hoe is a more visible location that is much better suited to holding events where the monument will be the focus.
It is part of the backdrop of much that happens in the city, and can be seen from both land and sea.

It will also be seen by the very many tourists that visit Plymouth Hoe every day of the year.

What form does it take?

The advice was to take care to choose a design that balanced the RAF and Allied AirForce Monument at the East end of the existing row of monuments.
This results in a more balanced set row of statues and so minimised problems with planning issues.

RAF and Allied AirForce Monument on Plymouth Hoe.

The committee consulted with Gordon Newton, based at The Stone Shop in Maidstone, Kent.
His expertise in designing, erecting and maintaining monuments around the UK meant that the design would be both appropriate and successful.

The sculptor Stephen Melton was commissioned for the actual sculpting of the statue itself.

Why do we need a monument for the MN anyway?

Seafaring is still one of the most dangerous occupations in the world; often the operation of ships is inherently dangerous due to the sheer magnitude of weather related phenomena.
Storms, wind and swell waves can often overcome the ships and/or the people on board,
whilst poor visibility is a root cause of many accidents.
Sometimes it is the cargo itself that poses the danger;
the carrying of petroleum products is common place but still hazardous
coal, iron ore fines and many other commodities can spontaneously combust.
Containers often contain undeclared hazards, and many explosions and fires have occurred through this cause.
Cargo of all sizes can move about due to the continuing movement of a ship at sea.

For this reason it is behoves us to remember "they that go down to the sea in ships that do business in great waters" (from Psalm 107).

This monument will help remind those that see it of this.

Why should we celebrate merchant seafarers nowadays?

Today, colossal volumes of cargo are moved around the world safely and very economically by ships.

Over 90% of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry.
Without shipping, the import/export of affordable food and goods would not be possible - half the world would starve and the other half would freeze!

Find the video "International Shipping: Lifeblood of World Trade" here.

ICS film

Nowadays about ten billion tonnes of cargo will be carried by sea annually,
equating to about one and a half tonnes for every man woman child on the planet.

See 6 days of world-wide merchant shipping in September 2012 condensed into 50 seconds in this video presentation from video

Shipping is regulated globally by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The harsh nature of the sea exposes ships to considerable physical risk, so a total commitment to safety pervades all deep sea shipping operations.

Shipping is the least environmentally damaging form of commercial transport and, compared with land based industry, is a comparatively minor contributor to marine pollution from human activities.

This monument will help remind those that visit it of this.

But it is not just the carrying of cargo between ports.
Some examples of the other shipping activities include:


is a major growth area with over 23 million passengers being carried this year.
At the moment there are over 300 cruise ships of various sizes involved in the cruise market worldwide,
some having a capacity of over 5,000 passengers.

Smaller cruise ships have occasionally called at the port of Plymouth.
There are now discussions taking place to attract more cruise ship calls to the port.

Plymouth has always been a port of call for liners.
Often passengers would start and leave their voyages here using the direct rail links into Millbay Dock to expedite their journey inland.

Oil and Gas exploration

The worlds demand for Hydrocarbon as a source of convenient energy has led to finding and tapping the huge gas and oilfields present under the seabed.
Nowadays oil is being extracted from depths of up to 3000 metres.
The expertise required to carry out the precision engineering required to achieve this task is often undertaken in some of the most hostile sea conditions imaginable.
As well as extraction, servicing and repairing the wells and pipelines calls for immense skill on the part of seafarers.

Offshore Wind Farms

These can now be found world wide as a major supplier of sustainable energy.
Around the UK there are some 25 offshore wind farms of varying sizes with about 1350 turbines with more under construction.
All these turbines have to be erected and serviced by sea going craft.

Undersea Cables

Underwater cables are the main mode of worldwide communications.
The huge amounts of data carried around the world, including almost all that generated by internet use, can only do so because of the vast array of underwater cables laid across the world's oceans.
The first transatlantic cable was laid in 1858. Since then more and more cables have been laid under the world's oceans, seas, rivers and lakes.
The routes have to be surveyed, the cables laid and then maintained, all by specialist ships and their crews.

Servicing and supplying military operations

Military forces require movement of people, fuel and supplies where ever they go; be it operation on land, or warships operating at sea.
The military supply chain is complex and can be dangerous and is carried out by merchant seafarers.
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is currently the largest fleet sailing under the British Merchant flag
There is usually at least one RFA vessel visible from the Hoe.

RFA vessel seen from Plymouth Hoe

RFA "Lyme Bay" moored in Plymouth Sound

Sea Blindness.

It is too easy to overlook the fact that without shipping moving the raw materials of industry, our fuel and our food, nations would disintegrate very quickly.

Some 90% of everything we own and buy has most likely travelled at some point by sea in merchant ships.

The ease at which we can go into a shop and buy goods means that it is easy to forget how those goods got to the point of sale.

The phrase "sea blindness" has been coined to describe this forgetfulness.

This monument will help remind us all of this.

What is the British Merchant Navy anyway?

In 1922 King George V bestowed the title "Merchant Navy" on the British Merchant shipping fleets in honour of the sacrifices made by merchant seafarers in the First World War.
Since 1936 the reigning sovereign has held the title "Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets".

In September 1939, at the outbreak out of the Second World War, King George VI issued the following message:

"In these anxious days I would like to express to all Officers and Men and in The British Merchant Navy and The British Fishing Fleets my confidence in their unfailing determination to play their vital part in defence.
To each one I would say: Yours is a task no less essential to my people's experience than that allotted to the Navy, Army and Air Force. Upon you the Nation depends for much of its foodstuffs and raw materials and for the transport of its troops overseas.
You have a long and glorious history, and I am proud to bear the title "Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets".
I know that you will carry out your duties with resolution and with fortitude, and that high chivalrous traditions of your calling are safe in your hands.
God keep you and prosper you in your great task."

Before the term Merchant Navy was bestowed, the mercantile fleet had for many centuries consisted of ships, owned privately by companies or individuals, trading all around the world.

This continues to be the situation.
The men and women employed on ship are employees of the company as in any other commercial business.

Over the years political and commercial considerations have meant that ships registered in Britain do not employ just British seafarers, and conversely British seafarers may serve on ships registered in many different countries.

British seafarers nowadays may be found in ships sailing all over the world's oceans, including Antarctica, under many different flags.

This monument will help remind us of these seafarers.

Medals for the Merchant Navy

World War 1

The Mercantile Marine War Medal was established in 1919
It was awarded by the UK Board of Trade to those who served in the Merchant Marine for one or more voyages through a war or danger zone during the course of the First World War.

Mercantile Marine War Medal

A scroll was also issued to the next of kin of those killed during that war whilst serving in the Merchant Marine.
The wording of this is evocative:
"This scroll is written to honour that great company of our men who though trained only to the peaceful traffic of the sea
yet in the hour of national danger gave themselves with the ancient skill and endurance of their breed
to face new perils and new cruelties of war and in a right cause served fearlessly to the end.
And this is written further to ensure that among the rest shall be ever freshly remembered the name and service of... (full name)."

Mercantile Marine Scroll

World War 2

No specific MN medals were awarded during WW2, instead merchant seafarers were eligible for campaign medals such as the Atlantic Star
Merchant Seaman's WW2 medal group
As an example, the Atlantic Star in this medal group was earned by a MN apprentice,
who went to sea on his first trip in January 1941 on ss "Lombardy" at the age of 16.

RMS Lombardy

He paid off the "Lombardy" in August 1942 just before his 18th birthday,
after 18 months service in Atlantic Convoys, mostly at speeds less than 10 knots.
There were very many like him, a great many of whom did not survive.

The MN Lapel Badge was introduced in 1940
Although ships' cargoes, destinations and routes came under government or naval control,
the wartime Merchant Navy was not a military force nor a single coherent body.
It was, as before and still is, a diverse collection of private companies and ships
crewed by a multinational workforce of civilian volunteers who ranged in age from 14 to at least 75.
Aside from officers, cooks and stewards, merchant seafarers did not wear uniforms on board ship;
and very rarely when ashore, they were identified only by a silver lapel badge bearing the letters MN.
MN Lapel Badge from 1941
This was introduced because of increasing complaints by MN personnel that they were suffering abuse
when ashore because they were not in uniform.

Some notes on the role of the MN in the Second World War

The Falklands War

South Atlantic Medal

Some 4000 South Atlantic Medals were awarded to Merchant Seamen, including those serving with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA),
out of a total of 29,700 (approx) awarded for service in the Falklands War in 1982

Present Day

Merchant Navy Medal

From 2005 to 2015 The Merchant Navy Medal was awarded on behalf of the UK shipping industry.
It does not have a place in the "order of view", so is worn on the right hand side.

On Merchant Navy Day 2016 (3rd September) the first "Merchant Navy Medals for Meritorous Service" was awarded.
This is a state award and Her Majesty the Queen has signed the Royal Warrant for the medal.
As this medal is in the "order of view", it is worn on the left hand side.
Just twenty of these medals are awarded each year.

MN badge
Plymouth MN Monument Home Page

contact: Plymouth MN Monument webmaster

last update was on 02nd January, 2021