The newly-launched Crew Lists website (Image: National Maritime Museum, London)

1915 UK Merchant Navy records go online

Posted on on 03 July 2015
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The names of hundreds of thousands of seafarers who kept Britain supplied during the First World War can now be searched online for the first time.

Volunteers from around the world answered a call from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and the UK National Archives to help transcribe handwritten records of those who served on British merchant ships in 1915.

The centenary project, launched in 2012, aims to highlight the "vital contribution made by the Merchant Navy during the First World War."

The names and personal details of 750,000 seafarers are contained in the crew lists for 39,000 voyages recorded in 1915.

More than 400 volunteers from countries as far afield as Australia, Japan and Mexico took up the challenge of deciphering the sometimes barely legible entries in the original registers.

Martin Salmon, Archivist at the National Maritime Museum, welcomed the worldwide interest: "The records themselves are of course also very international in their flavour," he pointed out.

"There is a temptation to think that the British Merchant Navy was composed entirely of British seafarers but nothing could be further from the truth. Often British subjects were in the minority on some of these vessels."

Speaking at the website launch on June 30th 2015, Mr Salmon said he hoped the project would make a "lasting and memorable contribution" to understanding of the First World War.

Captain Frederick Parslow VC

Crew list for the SS Anglo-Californian: Captain Frederick Parslow (first entry, top left) was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during a U-boat attack.The red ink records the deaths of Capt. Parslow and fellow crew members (Photo: Centenary News, courtesy of National Maritime Museum, London)

1915 saw a dangerous escalation in the war at sea for the mercantile marine.

Germany launched its first unrestricted submarine warfare campaign in February of that year, retaliating for the Allied naval blockade.

All merchant ships in the seas around the British Isles were warned that they risked attack without warning. The Cunard flagship RMS Lusitania, torpedoed on May 7th, became one of the best known known casualties.

But archivists and volunteers working on the digistisation of the 1915 crew lists have turned up many other forgotten or overlooked stories of bravery at sea.  

Among the names is that of *Captain Frederick Parslow, the first member of the Merchant Navy to be awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest decoration for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

He was killed on July 4th 1915 when his ship, SS Anglo-Californian, repeatedly came under fire while trying to escape a U-boat attack off the Irish coast.

Capt. Parslow was hit when the bridge was struck by shellfire from U-39's deck gun. His son, who was serving as second mate, took over amid the wreckage as warships from the British navy came to the rescue. 

Frederick Parslow was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in 1919. Together with Archibald Smith, a Merchant Navy captain killed in 1917, he was made a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve to qualify for the military decoration.

Volunteers who transcribed the 1915 crew lists joined staff from the National Maritime Museum and the National Archives for the launch of the website at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich (Photo: Centenary News)

To search the records, visit the Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy 1915 website.

*The centenary of Captain Frederick Parslow's death will be remembered this Saturday (July 4th 2015), with the unveiling of a Victoria Cross paving stone in North London.  The ceremony takes place at 11am at Islington Green, close to his birthplace. It's part of a UK Centenary initiative to remember all those awarded the VC in the First World War.

Sources: The National Maritime Museum and National Archives, London

Images: National Maritime Museum/Centenary News

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News



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