Online volunteers unearth details from Merchant Navy Crew Lists for 1915
Today marks the completion of an online volunteer project between The National Maritime Museum and The National Archives and the Crew List Index Project (CLIP). For the first time you can search online for details from all the surviving First World War Merchant Navy crew lists for 1915. The crew lists contain particulars for 36,000 voyages, including the names and personal details of 750,000 seamen.
As part of their commemorations for the First World War centenary, The National Maritime Museum and The National Archives began a four year long project in 2012, attracting the help of over 400 volunteers from as far afield as Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, as well as locations a little closer to home in Italy, Ireland and the UK. They transcribed the 39,000 crew lists from electronic copies of the documents. The span of the volunteers demonstrates the international interest and significance of these documents in highlighting the vital contribution made by the Merchant Navy during the First World War. No records for individual merchant seamen from this period exist, so the crew lists are the only surviving documents to showcase the efforts of these somewhat forgotten fighters.
Father and son heroism on 4 July 1915 earned the first Victoria Cross for the Merchant Navy
In researching the documents, the volunteers and staff working on the project unearthed untold stories, showcasing the often-overlooked bravery of the Merchant Navy during the First World War. One such story is that of Frederick Daniel Parslow, the first individual in the Mercantile Marine to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Parslow had been master of the cargo vessel Anglo-Californian (1912) and contracted by the Admiralty to transport horses. On 4 July 1915, a German U-boat was spotted about 90 miles from the Irish Coast. Parslow stood his ground heroically against the enemy for hours, but despite the submarine having used the last of her torpedoes prior to the encounter, the Germans were still able to mount a furious attack on the Anglo-Californian with their remaining weaponry. Parslow was killed by one of the numerous shells that were aimed at the bridge of the ship. The second mate was forced to lie down amongst the wreckage to continue navigating, until assistance could reach the ship and escort her in to Queenstown. The second mate happened to be Parslow’s eldest son, bearing the same name.
For his gallantry, Parslow was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously and he became the first individual in the Merchant Navy to receive this honour, although he had to be made a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve to bypass the rules in place at the time. His eldest son, who had also acted courageously during the attack, received the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts.