During World War I, the Merchant Navy supplied the Royal Navy, including troop transportation, supply delivery, and shipping to and from factories. They also had to continue their standard mission of supplying food and goods to the country, conduct routine shipping, and continue the fishing fleets. Although Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, who designed the memorial, initially planned it as an arch on the Thames River in order it could be viewed by ship vessels, it was constructed on Tower Hill, Trinity Square.
Historic England reported losses to civilian shipping were high from the beginning of the war, but in 1917 after the German government utilized submarine warfare, the losses increased. Some 3,305 Merchant ships were sunk, at a loss of 17,000 lives by persons who were not fighting in the war itself.
Due to the serious illness of King George V, the Queen accompanied by Princess Mary, unveiled the memorial–her voice being “transmitted over the wireless” (The Guardian, Dec 13, 1928, p. 11). The sculpture was completed by Sir William Reid-Dick.
The monument was designed in the form of a temple with three bays, with bronze plaques bearing the names of the dead. The inscription reads:
TO THE GLORY OF GOD
AND TO THE HONOUR OF
OF THE MERCHANT NAVY
AND FISHING FLEETS
WHO HAVE NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA
The Guardian also carried an item on page 10 about the ceremony, attended by “more than the usual proportion of…elderly men” who kept their heads uncovered in the cold and drizzling rain.
A memorial that commemorates the men who went on about the business of their country at great sacrifice, and then stood in a drizzling cold rain in December to honour not only their fellow countrymen, but their respect for the Queen while the King was very ill: Quite a different picture than of King George IV wouldn’t you say?