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A Merchant Seaman's Story

Terence McGaffin Service Number R214566


Page About Terence McGaffin



Tributes to the Merchant Navy



Continuous Certificate of Discharge



Merchant's Navy Badge



Terence McGaffin Merchant Navy Seaman's Pouch



SS. Saranac



MV. Pardo



Gianna M



Certificate of Discharge



Qualification as an "Efficient Deck Hand"



Empire Advocate



Melmore Head



Empire Chapman



Gunner's proficiency certificate.



SS Marcella



Terence the Artist



Shipping Company's telegram and Terence last letter home



Terence's War Medals



In Memory of Terence McGaffin



Lest We Forget



Terence McGaffin, 29.10.1919 - 13.3.1943

The story of a Second World War Merchant Seaman Terence McGaffin who was artistically trained at home, and through friends of his Mother began work as a designer for a linen company in Belfast. At least one of his original designs went into production.

Six months after the outbreak of war in 1939, he joined the merchant navy. The reasons for this abrupt change of vocation are unknown, other than that he had a fondness for ships and the sea. One of his relatives who remembers him, Catherine McGaffin, describes him simply as having been affable, with a good sense of humor.


"Unrecognised, you put us in your debt; Unthanked, you enter, or escape, the grave; Whether your land remember or forget You saved the land, or died to try to save" by John Masefield

At least 35,000 merchant seaman died as a direct or indirect consequence of the war. In total 2,426 British registered ships were lost, with a tonnage of 11,331,933 grt.


Tributes to the Merchant Seaman "The 30,000 men of the British Merchant Navy who fell victim to the U-boats between 1939 and 1945, the majority drowned or killed by exposure on the cruel North Atlantic sea, were quite as certainly front-line warriors as the guardsmen and fighter pilots to whom they ferried the necessities of combat. Neither they nor their American, Dutch, Norwegian or Greek fellow mariners wore uniform and few have any memorial. The stood nevertheless between the Wehrmacht and the domination of the world".

Historian John Keating.

In August 1941, when the outcome of the U-boat challenge to the convoy system was far from decided, Admiral Sir Percy Noble, Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches wrote that :

"For two hundred years, and more, these brave men, lacking the training and organisation that adapts their brothers in the Royal Navy so readily to the rigours of war, have, nevertheless, fashioned their own magnificent tradition. Day in, day out, night in, night out, they face to-day unflinchingly the dangers of the deep - the prowling U-boats. They know, these men, that the Battle of the Atlantic means wind and weather, cold and strain and fatigue, all in the face of a host of enemy craft above and below, awaiting the specific moment to send them to death. They have not even the mental relief of hoping for an enemy humane enough to rescue ; nor the certainty of finding safe and sound those people and those things they love when they return to homes, which may have been bombed in their absence.

When the Battle of the Atlantic is won, as won it will be, it will be these men and those who have escorted them whom we shall have to thank." 3

And indeed when the victory was won and the enemy vanquished the thanks of the nation were forthcoming. On 30 October 1945 the Houses of Parliament unanimously carried the following resolution expressing gratitude to the Merchant Navy on the victorious end of the war :

"That the thanks of this House be accorded to the officers and men of the Merchant Navy for the steadfastness with which they maintained our stocks of food and materials ; for their services in transporting men and munitions to all battles over all the seas, and for the gallantry with which, through a civilian service, they met and fought the constant attacks of the enemy."

The Right Honourable Alfred Barnes, Minister of War Transport said :

"The Merchant Seaman never faltered. To him we owe our preservation and our very lives." One seaman who served on one of the many Corvettes which escorted convoys throughout the war recalled that :

"We had great respect for the Merchant seamen. I think they were underestimated, especially now by the British public today, because they talk about the Battle of Britain. Granted the pilots did a marvellous, marvellous job, but when you stop and think, how did they get the fuel across to fly those planes, it was the Merchant seamen.....And, honestly, I think they're the bravest men out, the Merchant Navy."



Seamen's Continuous Certificate of Discharge Merchant Seamen had a Continuous Certificate of Discharge that they produce when signing Articles of Agreement.

The certificate was given into the safe keeping of the Master according to the "Notice to Seamen." A master document must have been kept by the Shipping Office as well.

This is 4.5 x 6.5-inches with a (faded) blue cover (light cardboard). There is a square cutout on the cover so you can see the surname and certificate number from page 2. The crest on the cover is that of the Ministry of War Transport.

On the first page of the booklet, there was a picture of the seaman, showing the Continuous Certificate of Discharge number.

Pages 3 and 4 of the booklet contains the actual certificate.The page is stamped to show that he was issued with a Merchant Navy badge.

The next four pages show information about the ships Terence served on.


Seamen did not have passports so their Continuous Certificate of Discharge was used instead.


Below is the Notice to Seamen from page 2.





Transcription of log book, on page 7 with notes:-

(1)Torpedoed by U-51, under command of Kapit채nleutnant Dietrich Knorr (2)Other sources refer to Gianni M - This vessel on separate Certificate of Discharge. (3)Reference found to convoy ON008 21-8-1941, Reykjavik-Philadelphia


Transcription of log detials on page 8,

"But for the Merchant Navy who bring us the food and munitions of war, Britain would be in a parlous state and indeed, without them, the Army, Navy and Air Force could not operate."

(Winston Churchill, January 27, 1942)


Merchant Navy Badge.

British Merchant Navy lapel badge was issued to all merchant seamen in World War II. The badge issued to members of the Canadian Merchant Navy was similar, but had the word "CANADA" added at the top.

Ships' officers in the Merchant Navy wore uniforms, but the other members of the crew (stokers, deckhands, etc.) did not have an official uniform. If they were employed by a large shipping company, however, they may have been issued with a company uniform.

Ashore, the men would wear this badge to identify them as merchant seamen.


T.McGaffin's Merchant Navy Seaman's Pouch

Record obtained from the National Archives.






SS Saranac


Nationality: British Purpose: Transport Type: Tanker Propulsion: Steamer Date built: 1918

Weight (tons):

12049 GRT.

Dimensions: 161,5 x 20,1 x 12,5 m Engine: Quadruple Expansion

Power: 793 n.h.p. 19

SS Saranac

S.S. Saranac voyages covered by entries 1, 2 & 3,


SS Saranac movement cards Jan 1940 to June 1940

National Archives file number BT389/26




SS Saranac last convoy



Torpedoed by U-51,at 48.24N, 15.05W

At 15.51 hours on Tuesday 25 Jun, 1940, the Saranac (Master Vernon Horace Alcock) in convoy OA-172 was hit by one torpedo from U-51 about 270 miles westsouthwest of Lands End and was immediately abandoned by the crew. At 17.37 hours, the U-boat surfaced and tried to sink the tanker by gunfire, but she sank 15 minutes after being hit by a coup de gr창ce at 19.15 hours. Two crew were killed and two were missing. Seventeen survivors including the Master were rescued by the destroyer HMS Hurricane [H06] (LtCdr H.C. Simms, RN) and landed at Plymouth.


HMS Hurricane [H06] (LtCdr H.C. Simms, RN)

The remaining survivors were picked up on the 29th, fourteen miles from Castletown by the British steamer AINDERBY(4860grt). Nine crew members were landed by the British trawler Caliph at Berehaven, Co. Cork.

From conversations Stewart McGaffin had with Mrs.Catherine MacGaffin (neé Barton), it was learned that she was acquainted with Terry during the war years. She recounted that he had assured his Mother that “..she should not worry, as he would always be able to save himself.” This suggests some reticence on her part, in approving of him going to sea.


It may also explain the fact that Terry was close to his 21st birthday at the time of signing-on to his first merchant vessel, the SS Saranac. Catherine MacGaffin further recalled that Terry turned-up in Belfast on one occassion, dishevelled and wearing clothes issued to him upon being rescued from the sinking of Saranac. Terry may have been one of the nine landed at Berehaven, this being perhaps an easier way to return to Belfast. [Reference to Harbour Master records at Berehaven, if existent, may throw light on this speculation].


MV. Pardo


Terry sailed on the M.V. Pardo, from Belfast on 14-8-1940

Movements of MV Pardo covered by entry 4, totalling 18 voyages


“Sunday 23rd Feb.1941 at Buenos Aires�

Terry is second from left, the identity of the others is not known


MV. Pardo movement cards June 1940 to April 1941

BT 389/23



Gianna M

Gianna M was an Italian ship, but on 10-5-1941 the Booth Line's RMS Hilary intercepted and captured the cargo vessel of Cia Italiana Transporto Olii Minerali, Genoa off Las Palmas. She was taken to Belfast by a prize crew. (She later became British Empire Control). RMS Hilary and her prize joined convoy at 07:40 on May 13, and left at 17:00 on May 14 in 47 04N 21 42W. Listed as Gianna M throughout narrative and convoy documents, but as Gianni M in some other sources.

The Certificate of Discharge on page 36 covers the period between entry numbers 4 and 5 in the Continuous Certificate of Discharge logbook.


Gianna M movement card June 1941

BT 389/13



Terence's qualification as an efficient Deck Hand probably explains the fact that his rating advanced from "A.B." on the 7th of June to "Sailor" recorded on the 29th July, 1941, at the commencement of his next engagement aboard the Empire Advocate.


Empire Advocate NAMES: Solfels (1913-20) Bowes Castle (1920-32) Angelina Lauro (1932-40) Empire Advocate (1940-45)

OWNERS: Hansa Line, Bremen (1913-1919) British Shipping Controller (1919-20) Lancashire Shipping Co (1920-32) Achille Lauro, Naples (1932-40) Ministry of War Transport (1940-45)

OPERATORS: Hansa Line, Bremen (1913-1919) H Hogarth & Sons (1919-20) Chambers & Sons (1920-32) Achille Lauro, Naples (1932-40) Galbraith, Pembroke & Sons (1940-45)

PORT OF REGISTRY: German Empire Bremen (1913-19) United Kingdom Liverpool (1919-32) Italy Naples (1932-40) United Kingdom London (1948-55)

BUILDER J C Tecklenburg AG, Weserm端nde 38

Data source: "Port arrivals / departures - Arnold Hague Ports Database"

(1)ON.8 appears to have been designated Liverpool to Philadelphia via Reykjavik. The record suggests that Empire Advocate broke-off to head directly for Philadelphia, avoiding the stopover at Reykjavik.

(2)Sydney CB denotes Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia


Empire Advocate movement cards Jan 1941 to Oct 1941

BT 389/11



SS Melmore Head

Type:Steam merchant Tonnage5,273 tons Completed1918 - Workman, Clark & Co Ltd, Belfast OwnerUlster SS Co Ltd (G. Heyn & Sons Ltd), Belfast HomeportBelfast Date of attack28 Dec 1942

Sunk by U-225 (Wolfgang Leimk端hler) Position43.27N, 27.15W - Grid BD 9869 Complement49 (14 dead and 35 survivors). ConvoyONS-154 RouteNewport, Mon. - Belfast Lough (18 Dec) - St.John, New Brunswick CargoBallast 42

Melmore Head voyages covered by entry 6.

Melmore Head voyages covered by entry 7.


Melmore Head movement cards Jan 1942 to Aug 1942

BT 389/20



Empire Chapman

Above: Photograph of what is believed to be the SS Empire Chapman. In common with many other such ships at the time, a decoy funnel has been placed midships, with the functioning exhaust funnels at the rear disguised as derricks. This was done to disguise fuel tankers as general cargo vessels, in the belief that they would present a lower priority target for the U-boats.


Empire Chapment voyages covered by entry number 8.

Homeward Bound by Ira "Flare" Fredricksen (written at sea 1943-45)

She's riding tonight with a good light draft. Lines are stowed forward and aft.

The holds are empty, the ballast in. Booms secured and fast again.

She's swept and washed 47

Empire Chapman movment card Sept 1942 to Dec 1942

BT 389/5


Gunners Proficiency Certificate

Course completed just prior to final voyage on SS Marcella


SS Marcella


SS Marcella movements covered by entry 9, totalling 3 voyages.

For those in peril on the Sea.

"Eternal Father, Strong to Save", is a hymn often associated with the Royal Navy or the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. Accordingly, it is often known as the Royal Navy Hymn or the United States Navy Hymn (or just The Navy Hymn), and sometimes by the last line of its first verse, For those in peril on the sea.

The original hymn was written by William Whiting of Winchester, England, in 1860. It was originally intended as a poem for a student of his, who was about to travel to the United States. In 1861, John B. Dykes, an Anglican clergyman, composed the tune "Melita" for this hymn. "Melita" is an archaic term for Malta, an ancient seafaring nation and the site of a shipwreck involving the Apostle Paul mentioned in Acts of the Apostles (chapters 27-28). 51


Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard And hushed their raging at Thy word, Who walkedst on the foaming deep, And calm amidst its rage didst sleep; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood Upon the chaos dark and rude, And bid its angry tumult cease, And give, for wild confusion, peace; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power! Our brethren shield in danger's hour; From rock and tempest, fire and foe, Protect them wheresoe'er they go; Thus evermore shall rise to Thee Glad hymns of praise from land and sea. 52

SS Marcella Movement Cards Aug 1942 to Mar 1943

File number BT 389/20 National Archives



Marcella's last convoy



KEY A = 4" or 4.7" Guns DC = Depth Charges (ND) = Ship fitted with Admiralty Net defence. B = 12 Pounder Guns K = Kites C = Bofors KB = Kite Balloons M = Machine Guns (T) =Tanker


The last recorded position of SS Marcella - 42.45N, 13.31W

S.S. Marcella joined convoy OS-44, destination Capetown S.A. via Freetown, Sierra Leone. At 05.30 hours on March 13, 1943, in position 42.45N, 13.31W (190 miles west of Cape Finisterre), convoy OS.44 was spotted by the U-boat U-107. She fired a number of torpedoes, and reported having hit three ships. In fact four ships had been hit. SS Marcella was torpedoed and sunk by U-107 under the command of Kapit채nleutnant Harald Gelhaus, along with SS Oporto, SS Sembilangan and SS Clan Alpine. The master and 34 crew members of SS Marcella are commemorated on Tower Hill Panel 68. Nine DEMS gunners were lost but only 4 known commemorations are known.


Captain Harald Gelhaus

U-boat U-107 at Lorient,



The photo above was taken by a fellow merchant seaman George Beswick'son his first voyage on MARCELLA in Buenos Aires on 21 August 1942. The comments on the back of the photo are fascinating and are as follows:"Ammunition ship, Never again Captain Downie Blew up West of Oporto 13th March 1943, Convoy OS44, Gelhaus Submarine U107. Lost with all hands 35 crew 9 dems. 42.45N 13.13W

“George was not on Marcella at the time as he left her on 12 November 1942 but had obviously followed her career, what was left of it. George said he was not happy on her. She was very old very slow and regularly carried ammunition which made her very unpopular. She appears to be loading general cargo in B.A. according to the note on the back and this was more likely to be grain as she appears to be alongside a silo.� 61

SS. Marcella at sea and in port.



Terrence the Artist

An oil-on-canvas painting, signed by Terry, date unknown.


An ink sketch of a sailing vessel

IIllustration of Terry’s love of all to do with ships and the sea


Down town Buenos Aires.

A sketch entitled “The Arches, Buenos Aires”, and signed T.McG., which must have been drawn some time after 3rd Oct, 1940 - Terence’s first recorded visit to that city, aboard the MV Pardo. It shows a certain grasp of perspective in the developing artist, as well as a hint of humour in the two gentlemen on the right, peering into the “bathing beauties” machine.


The telegram from Kaye Transport Co.Ltd., owners of the MV Marcella, to Mrs. Isabella McGaffin, informing of the loss of her son. Note the misspelling of both their surnames.


Terrence's last letter home



Annotated in the upper-left “Rec’d 8th March, 1943” - this was just 5 days before the MV Marcella was lost.

The missing upper-right corner has probably been removed by a censor - common practice at the time; the name of a ship, it’s location and date would have been useful to the enemy in wartime if the letter had come into their hands.

Terence mentions a pay rise “since we came over here of £1.7s.6d a month”.

He also mentions “getting on alright with the books”, so was perhaps studying for some nautical qualification.


Sample of a Merchant Seaman's payslip.

George Beswick was of a silimiar rating to Terence.


Terence's War Medals

The 1939 to 1945 Star

This star was awarded for operational service from September 3rd 1939 (the day of the outbreak of WW 2) to August 15th 1945 (the day hostilities against Japan in the Pacific ceased). A bar was authorized for fighter crews engaged in the Battle of Britain from July 10th to October 31st 1940. The badge is a six-pointed star with the Royal Cipher GRI VI in the centre surrounded by the inscription: "The 1939-1945 Star" and surmounted by a crown. The reverse is blank. Recipients are eligible for the other campaign stars of Burma, Italy, the France and Germany Star and the Pacific Star. The ribbon is 1.25" wide with three stripes of equal width coloured dark blue, scarlet and light blue which represent the three armed services.

This decoration could be awarded with the "BATTLE OF BRITAIN" clasp. The clasp was awarded to all those that had flown on at least one operational sortie with an accredited Battle of Britain squadron between July 10th - October 31st 1940.


The 1939 to 1945 War Medal

The War Medal 1939-1945 was established on August 16th 1945 and was awarded to all personnel of the armed forces of the British Commonwealth (excluding the Home Guard) and Merchant Navies for having served at least 28 days, operational or nonoperational, between September 3rd 1939 and September 2nd 1945. For members of the Merchant Navy the 28 days had to be served at sea.

The medal was granted in addition to the other campaign stars and the Defence Medal. A few categories of civilians, such as war correspondents and civil air transport crews also qualified.


A single oak leaf emblem is worn to signify a "Mention-in-Despatches" and the silver oak leaf signifying a "King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct" is worn on the medal. There are no bars or clasps other than these emblems.

The circular medal is made of cupro-nickel, except the Canadian issue, which is silver, It is 1.42 inches in diameter. The obverse shows the crowned coinage effigy of King George VI, facing left, and the legend GEORGIVS VI D : BR : OMN : REX ET INDIAE IMP :. The reverse of the medal shows a lion standing on the body of a dragon. This dragon is double-headed, one of an eagle and one of a dragon to signify the principal occidental and oriental enemies. At the top are the dates 1939/1945.

The ribbon is 1.25 inches wide and red, white and blue with a narrow red stripe in the centre with a narrow white stripe on either side, broad red stripes at either edge with two intervening stripes of blue.

The medal was issued unnamed, except those awarded to personnel of the Canadian Merchant Navy and RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), and the Australian and South-African issues, which were named on the rim. A total of 700,000 awards were issued, including 4,450 to the Canadian Merchant Navy.


The Atlantic Star Medal

The Atlantic Star, instituted to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic, was awarded to crews of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy for operational service at sea for at least 6 months in the Atlantic, the home waters or on the Russian convoys and to air crews for at least 2 months of operational service in these areas between September 3rd, 1939 and May 8th, 1945 or September 2nd, 1945 for operational service in the Pacific.

The Atlantic Star could not be awarded unless the 1939-1945 Star had been earned for 180 days of operational service or for 2 months of service in the air and therefore, the total requirement for the Atlantic Star is 12 months at sea or 4 months in the air.


Though this award was normally awarded to personnel of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, personnel of the Army and Royal Air Force could also qualify for the award. For example, soldiers were frequently posted as gunners aboard armed merchant ships but to qualify for the award, an individual had to serve at sea for the same length of time and in the same areas as the service in which he served.

Those who also qualified for the France & Germany Star and/or the Aircrew Europe Star could wear a silver rosette on the ribbon of whichever of the three Stars was earned first. The medal is a six-pointed star with the Royal Cipher ‘GRI VI’ in its centre surmounted by a crown above the inscription ‘THE ATLANTIC STAR’. The reverse is plain and blank and the award is issued unnamed.

The ribbon is 1.25 inches wide with three stripes of equal width of dark blue, white and green representing the colours of the Atlantic Ocean.


Tower Hill Memorial

In Memory of Sailor TERENCE McGAFFIN

S.S. Marcella (London), Merchant Navy who died age 23 on 13 March 1943 Son of James McGaffin, and of Isabel A. McGaffin, of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Remembered with honour.

Commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


Memorial Plan.

Local information.

The Tower Hill Memorial commemorates men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who died in both World Wars and who have no known grave. It stands on the south side of the garden of Trinity Square, London, close to The Tower of London. The Memorial Register may be consulted at Trinity House Corporation, Trinity Square (Cooper's Row entrance), Tower Hill, London EC3N 4DH, which will be found behind the Memorial. Tel: 020 7481 6900.


Historical Information: In the First World War, the civilian navy's duty was to be the supply service of the Royal Navy, to transport troops and supplies to the armies, to transport raw materials to overseas munitions factories and munitions from those factories, to maintain, on a reduced scale, the ordinary import and export trade, to supply food to the home country and - in spite of greatly enlarged risks and responsibilities - to provide both personnel and ships to supplement the existing resources of the Royal Navy. Losses of vessels were high from the outset, but had peaked in 1917 when in January the German government announced the adoption of "unrestricted submarine warfare". The subsequent preventative measures introduced by the Ministry of Shipping including the setting up of the convoy system where warships were used to escort merchant vessels - led to a decrease in losses but by the end of the war, 3,305 merchant ships had been lost with a total of 17,000 lives. In the Second World War, losses were again considerable in the early years, reaching a peak in 1942. The heaviest losses were suffered in the Atlantic, but convoys making their way to Russia around the North Cape, and those supplying Malta in the Mediterranean were also particularly vulnerable to attack. In all, 4,786 merchant ships were lost during the war with a total of 32,000 lives. More than one quarter of this total were lost in home waters. The First World War section of the Tower Hill Memorial commemorates almost 12,000 Mercantile Marine casualties who have no grave but the sea. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens with sculpture by Sir William Reid-Dick. It was unveiled by Queen Mary on 12 December 1928. The Second World War extension, designed by Sir Edward Maufe, with sculpture by Charles Wheeler, commemorates almost 24,000 names.



Now see the old seaman Not a word has he said In silence and tribute He remembers the dead.

Some young people question Most veterans don't know What it is he remembers From so long ago.

How quickly forgotten How sad they don't know How they died on the Oceans Of so long ago.

He's a bosun, a wiper The others as well They sailed in harm's way In battle they fell.

Now the band they are playing A tear or two shed It's flowers o' the forest For our seafaring dead.

Now see that old seaman Whose chums there had died 80

A WWII Merchant sSeaman  

This is a war biography of a talented young man from Northern Ireland who joined the Merchant Navy and was killed in 1943. Included in this...

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