A merchant seaman’s association from the other side of the world has suggested they buy Totnes Town Council a new flagpole, so that town can raise the Red Ensign to pay tribute to the nation’s merchant navy heroes.
The Australian association’s members are furious that Totnes could be blocked from taking part in the national flag-flying ceremony on Merchant Navy Day because the council has promised the use of its flagpole to the town’s gay pride group to fly its rainbow flag.
Richard Brown, president and secretary of the New South Wales, Australia, TS Vindicatrix Association – made up of former British merchant navy sailors – said he had been perplexed at the council’s “attitude to the memory of thousands of merchant seamen who gave their lives willingly to keep Britain going in times of great hardship”.
In an email to this newspaper, he said: “I decided to email said story out to our members here who are all obviously ex-British merchant seaman and some old enough to have served in the merchant navy during the Second World War and the early post-war years.
“I have had some replies back and I can say that those members are not happy with Totnes Town Council – one even suggested we club together and buy them a flagpole.
“In this day of political correctness, one has to be careful of one’s words but I can assure you that our members are not pleased with the thought that the Red Ensign could even be mentioned in the same sentence as the rainbow flag, let alone be flown alongside of it.
“I believe the town council should get its priorities right and respect the effort that was put in by merchant seaman in the Second World War and beyond and celebrate Sunday, September 3, as Merchant Navy Day.”
The council has been invited by the Seafarers UK group to fly the flag of the merchant marine – the Red Ensign – and hold a small flag raising ceremony, possibly involving merchant navy veterans and town councillors, to mark the day.
But at a meeting of the town’s people committee councillors were told they had already promised the Totnes Proud2Be gay group the right to fly its rainbow flag over the town from the council flagpole that week.
Since then, councillors have been investigating whether it is possible to fly the two flags side by side over the Civic Hall or whether Proud2Be was prepared to lower its flag on the Sunday so the Red Ensign can be raised.
The council was due to meet on Monday to see what could be done to resolve the problem.
Meanwhile, Mat Price, spokesman for Proud2Be which organises the annual pride week, said last week he had yet to be approached by the council.
“This is the first I have heard about it and I can’t really comment,” he said.
TS Vindicatrix was a merchant navy training ship for boys from 1939. Thousands of sailors passed through her before she was broken up in 1967 and Vindicatrix association branches exist all over the UK as well as New Zealand and Australia.