Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)




Review of
Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors
A Guide for Family Historians
By Simon Wills
Pen and Sword ( )
ISBN 9781848846517
RRP GBP £12.99


Britain had one of the largest merchant navies in the world. In peacetime it was used to supply the UK with all its essentials such as foods and goods / equipment. However in wartime its role is even more critical to the survival of this island nation.

In some ways the Merchant Navy has been considered a fourth service complementing the Royal Navy. It was not entirely “peaceful” because in wartime especially during World Wars 1 & 2 the merchant ships often carried armaments. Such ships usually had members of the Royal Artillery attached to them.

This highly useful book covers how to research the men and ships of the Merchant Navy. It covers topics such as the normal experiences of merchant seamen, the types of ships employed, the risks and rewards of service, being shipwrecked, rewards for bravery and many other fascinating topics.

The author’s treatment gives a concise and factual guide through the story of Britain’s merchant service. He shows how to trace individuals and gain insights into their lives. The book starts with a chapter dealing with the maritime domination, the management of the merchant service and the type of ships used by the Merchant Navy.

Then he considers the “life” in general of a merchant seaman by covering navigation, a career at sea, uniforms, health related issues and charities / retirement. Next he discusses finding and tracing ships and then gives a similar treatment on tracing seamen and officers.

Some personnel had to be “qualified” to do certain tasks and these include Captains and Mates, Engineers, Officer Trainees, Telegraphers and Radio Officers and Cooks. Each of these roles is explained and dealt with. Both disasters and bravery are given a chapter and so too is the role of the Merchant Navy in wartime. There is a section on places to visit and another on case histories.

The history of the Merchant Navy spans many centuries but its “recorded” history is mainly since the late 1700s / early 1800s. This book is ideal for researching the personnel and ships of the Merchant Navy from this date until recent times. It is an exceptional textbook and extremely useful for this subject. Hence this book is specifically recommended for such research.

June 2013