The Merchant Navy: the fourth service – remembering the Victor Ross 80 years on

As we approached Remembrance this year, I was reminded that we keep hearing about the three Services: the Royal Navy, the British Army, and the Royal Air Force. Like Tony Meade in his letter printed in this month’s Legion magazine from the Royal British Legion, I am disappointed that

little or no mention was given to the Merchant Navy

Tony Meade, “The Merchant Navy: the Fourth Service”, letter in Legion magazine, Nov 2020, p. 66

If there had not been the Merchant Navy, whose members transported men and goods in severe danger, often in ships that were unarmed, then the victories of the other services during the two World Wars would not have been possible.

My husband, Andrew, always says that at the Cenotaph in London, it always seems that the Merchant Navy is tacked on as an “afterthought”. The Merchant Navy is particularly important to us as a couple as Andrew’s grandfather, Alexander McFarland was Second Engineer Officer on the Victor Ross, as British merchantman torpedoed by U-43 in the north Atlantic at 56° 04’N, 18° 30’W – Grid AL 6244 on 2 December 1940, eighty years ago today. You can see who else was on board at

Steve Saunders writes that Winston Churchill said,

“The Merchant Navy, with its Allied comrades, night and day, in weather fair or foul, faces not only the ordinary perils on the sea, but the sudden assaults of war from beneath the waters or from the sky. Your first task is to bring to port the cargoes vital for us at home or for our Armies abroad, and we trust your tenacity and resolve to see this stern task through … We feel confident that the proud tradition of our island will be upheld today, wherever the Ensign of a British Merchantman is flown,”

The unsung heroes of our fourth service.

I do hope that in the future, all four services will be recognised at remembrance services and events not just in the United Kingdom but across the Commonwealth and in Ireland. Without those gallant men and women, our freedoms as we know them would not have been maintained.

Today, remembering Alexander McFarland and the other men and women of the Merchant Navy, I’ll be wearing the combined Poppy and Merchant Navy badge. It would probably be good if the Royal British Legion could add this one to their collection at the Poppy Shop – and even add it to the banner pic with the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force pins.

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