WW2 hero raises Red Duster flag in honour of merchant sailors following row

© Paul SmithRetired Merchant Navy Captain Sandy Davidson raising the Red Ensign flag.
Retired Merchant Navy Captain Sandy Davidson raising the Red Ensign flag.

The heroism and sacrifice of the Merchant Navy was recognised as the Red Ensign was unfurled at Arbroath’s Signal Tower museum by a WWII hero who survived for 19 days in an open lifeboat after his ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans, Graeme Dey MSP, joined serving members of the armed forces for the ceremony, which is part of a growing movement led by maritime charity Seafarers UK.

It invites local authorities to fly the official flag of the UK Merchant Navy from civic buildings and on prominent flagpoles on Merchant Navy Day.

September 3 was selected to mark the anniversary of the sinking of merchant vessel SS Athenia, with the loss of 128 lives, just hours after the start of hostilities of the First World War.


This year, the flag will be flown at up to 1,000 locations throughout the UK.

Addressing the gathering, Angus Provost Ronnie Proctor said: “Those who served in the fourth service, as the merchant navy is often known felt that merchant seafarers had been largely unacknowledged and certainly undervalued for far too many years, especially those who served on the notorious Arctic Convoys.

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“But we should remember that during WWII alone, there were almost 5,000 British and Allied ships lost and almost 63,000 British and Allied merchant seaman killed in action.

“More recently, during the Falklands war 43 merchant ships along with 24 ships from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary were all manned by Merchant Seamen.

Mr Proctor outlined the importance of the merchant navy today, saying: “95% of everything you see in the shops arrives by sea, in all weathers, every day.  British made goods are exported throughout the world thanks to our Merchant Navy.

“The UK is still a major world centre of expertise in the maritime sector for ship-broking, insurance and legal services, and contributing £26.5 billion to the UK’s GDP.”

The Provost also paid tribute to Captain Sandy Davidson who had been invited to raise the flag.

Mr Davidson’s merchant ship, the Larchbank, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1943 and, in danger of being machine gunned, he was pulled from shark infested waters into a lifeboat.

Sailing on average just 24 miles per day it eventually landed at Sri Lanka, the crew having exhausted their limited supplies of food and water.

Mr Davidson, who now receives support from veteran’s charity Scottish War Blind said: “It is quite an honour to be asked to raise the Merchant Navy Flag by the Provost as my entire career was spent in the Merchant Navy.

“There aren’t many of us around now who actually served during the Second World War, in fact I may be the only one in this area.”

Under an agreement reached between former Angus Council supremo Richard Stiff and the then-Provost of Angus, it was decided that the Red Ensign would be flown in Arbroath and Montrose on alternate years.

However, the proposed absence of the Red Ensign in Montrose this year drew criticism from a number of retired Merchant Navy sailors, who argued that the flag should be flown in both of the county’s principal ports on Merchant Navy Day, instead of one.

Councillor Bill Duff countered the demand, arguing the Saltire should be flown from the principle council building in Montrose at all times and should not be removed for any other flag.