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Red Ensign flying for Merchant Navy Day

3 September 2014 by Jen

Red Ensign flag flying above the Pilotage building.

The Red Ensign flying above the Pilotage building.

Anyone visiting us down at the Liverpool waterfront this week might have noticed a distinctive red flag flying above the old Liverpool Pilotage building next door to the Museum of Liverpool. Bright red, with the Union flag in the top left corner, it’s known as a Red Ensign. Yesterday myself and a couple of colleagues had the slightly hair-raising task (it looks a lot higher up once you get up there!) of climbing up to the roof and raising the flag in time to mark Merchant Navy Day on  3 September.

Merchant Navy was the title bestowed on the merchant shipping fleets by King George V, following their service in the First World War, and it encompasses all British commercial shipping. Far older than the title though is the flag that identifies the vessels. The Red Ensign has been flown by British and English ships since as far back as the 17th century. In 1864 it was decided that merchant vessels should be made instantly distinguishable from those of the Royal Navy and the Red Ensign became the identifier of the merchant ships.

The Merchant Navy suffered heavy losses during both world wars but their perseverance kept Britain supplied with the food and raw materials it desperately needed. These wartime necessities however came at a cost, in the First World War alone more than 14,000 Merchant Seafarers lost their lives. In recognition of the sacrifices of Merchant Seafarers, both in the two world wars and since, Merchant Navy Day was made an official day of remembrance in 2000 and, though it may only have been around 14 years, it honours a service that Britain has relied upon for many centuries. The Merchant Navy continues to supply Britain to this day with a staggering 95% of all goods entering Britain doing so via shipping.

If you’re a frequent visitor to the waterfront, keep an eye on that flag pole, we often mark different events and you’ll be able to see a changing procession of flags throughout the year. If you’re very lucky and eagle eyed you might even spot some of the museum staff on the roof raising the next flag and, in my case, trying not to look down while doing it!

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