FORMER merchant seafarers who served in war and peacetime are being reunited by a North East group.
The Merchant Navy Association (MNA) was launched to bring together ex-colleagues, provide opportunities to make new friends and raise public awareness of the commitment and sacrifice of the service.
During the First and Second World Wars, merchant seamen suffered heavy losses from German U-boat attacks and a policy of “unrestricted warfare” meant they were also at risk from enemy ships.
Denise Kellingray, vice treasurer of the Tyne and Wear branch of the MNA, said: “It is a service that has not been given the recognition it deserves.
“Particularly during wartime, it suffered heavy losses to maintain supply lines.
“If anything, it was even more dangerous than the work of the Royal Navy because they were unarmed.”
The retired shopworker – whose husband, dad, granddad and great granddad all served in the Merchant Navy – said she hoped more former seamen and women from Wearside would join the association.
“There has been a lot of interest from Newcastle and South Shields, but we do seem to be short of members from Sunderland,” said Denise, from the East End.
“We’re hoping that will change. My dad had eight brothers who all served in either the Merchant Navy or Royal Navy.
“There is a large number of people in the city who served at sea and we’re hoping they will come to our meetings.”
Derek Aynsley, chairman of the local branch, said: “It has been a big success since it was set up. It is the first one that has been launched in Tyne and Wear.
“It is a chance for people to catch up with other former members of the Merchant Navy and talk over old times.
“We also have guest speakers who talk on a variety of subjects.”
The Tyne and Wear branch of the MNA meets at the Old Ship Inn, in Sunderland Road, South Shields, on the first Thursday of every month at noon.
For more information, call 0750 200 2261. Alternatively, visit www.mna.org.uk.