RN or Merchantman?

I have an ancestor who I presumed was in the RN in WW1. He was torpedoed in an armed merchant cruiser on Icelandic patrol.
Now I have heard that his Continuous Certificate of Discharge book means he was a merchantman, possibly under RN orders.
As he volunteered or was conscripted in 1917 and was discharged in 1918 I find it unlikely he was not in the RN.
He was listed as being in HMS Sunhill which I think was a Liverpool training ship; HMS Champagne (torpedoed); and then HMS Eagle before he was discharged "per Ministry of Shipping Order"
Has anyone any ideas or experience of this scenario, please?


Lantern Swinger

If he served in the RN you may be able to locate and download his service record via the National Archives website
Link http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/familyhistory/military/navy/rnstep10.htm

If he served in the Merchant Navy his service record will be located here:

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/familyhistory/merchant/ unfortunately these records are not available via Internet download.

H.M.S. " Champagne," an auxiliary cruiser, carrying a crew of 34 officers and 271 other ratings, was cruising off the West Coast of the Isle of Man on the 9th October, 1917, when she was torpedoed by an enemy submarine. Captain Percy Brown, R.N. , and 46 of the crew of the vessel landed at Port Erin. On the news being received at Government Office, an inspector of police and a doctor were despatched by motor car to Port Erin, to render any assistance possible. At 2 p.m. , the inspector of police reported that 50 of the crew had been landed at that place, one of whom was suffering from wounds and another from shock. At 1 p.m., the Peel lifeboat was launched, and arrangements were made for all fishing vessels lying in Peel Harbour to proceed to the scene of the disaster. At 3 p.m., news was received from Port Erin that 150 of the crew had been landed at Port St. Mary, and at 5 p.m. the Peel lifeboat returned to Peel with 21 survivors. For these latter clothing was obtained from Knockaloe Camp, and medical aid was provided. Harbour Master Elliot, of Port Erin, being the local representative of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society, provided clothing for the men landed at the southern ports, and the Inspector of Police (Inspector Duke) arranged for billets for the survivors. The total number reported landed in the Island out of the crew of 305 was 217, but some additional survivors were subsequently found.’

On the 10th October, 1917, Captain Brown 2 wrote:

"Captain Brown would like to take this opportunity of thanking the Authorities for the extreme kindness and hospitality which has been shown to himself, his officers and men during their stay in the Island."



War Hero
Book Reviewer
The Continuous Discharge Book is in effect a merchant seaman's id. It is quite possible that, when the Admiralty requisition a warship, they also requisition a number of the crew. Remember that the STUFT merchant ships on the Falklands campaign retained their merchant crews but would also have had RN on board. In WW2 some merchant seamen in trawlers etc were effectively conscripted onto 'T45' articles, meaning they remained on MN pay and conditions - better pay than the RN but once an MN leaves his ship, he's on his own until he finds someone else to take him on. In both wars there was a govt org ashore to facilitate this as we needed to get the men back to work as soon as possible. There have probably been many permutaions of RN/MN manning. It sounds as if your forebear was MN. There may be papers in the Board of Trade section BTnnn) of the National Archives which could help. But basically the MN is a civilian, commercial thing with no central direction above the shipping line level and bits of it only get into TNA when Govt has chosen to dip its oar in.

The fact that a merchant ship is commissioned into the RN with an RN Captain (eg as an armed merchant cruiser) doesn't mean that all its MN people leave (particularly in the engine room).
Thank you both for your replies.
Yes, Sweetpea, he was one of the 21 picked up by the Peel lifeboat after hanging on to driftwood for some hours. He stayed in Peel for some time until he was fit enough to return to Liverpool where he was hospitalised. Hence his discharge before the end of the war as he was only passed fit for shore duties.
Seaweed, I think you have hit the nail on the head. He was a writer and I think was RN in a mixed RN/MN crew. He had no previous naval experience before he either volunteered or was conscripted (grocer before and after) so I think was definitely RN. The photos appear to be RN uniform, too. As I presume his papers went down with the Champagne do you think "any old papers" were issued as a replacement? Especially towards the end of the war.

HMS Sunhill was at Portsmouth as a base ship and accommodation for Mercantile Seaman who were in the RN Barracks --possibly for training
purposes prior to being sent to a ''warship''

HMS Eagle was an Auxiliary Patrol Base ship --in Northern Ireland then to Liverpool she was renamed Eaglet in 1918 and ended her days as a RNVR drill ship . Burnt out in 1927 -and scrapped.

Hope it helps

Thanks Greenie,
As Champagne and Eagle were Liverpool I had presumed Sunhill was as well as no location given in book except for Eagle (and private knowledge about Champagne)
Eagle arrived in Liverpool, under tow from Spithead in 1862. Don't think she was ever in NI. Used as a Drill ship for the RNR. The RNAV were alwed to drill on board in the 1870s and 80s. When Mersey Division RNVR were founded in 1903 they initially drilled ashore in the Old Custom House. The RNR continued to use her untill 1911. The RNVR then too her over. Most Naval personel in liverpool not any other ships books would have been borne on her books. I suspect that your ancestor was officially RNR. A reserve made up of Mercant Navy Officers and Ratings in those days. As oposed to the RNVR who were volunteers from all other walks of life.

As a footnote all merchant crew, male and female, in the Falklands campaign were subjuct to the NDA in the South Atlantic during hostilities.But did not become Naval Personell.
If a Merchant ship is requisitioned for RN use the crew are given the option to stay onboard --mainly as engineers etc due to the machinery and ships

In WW2 they had a scheme called T124 which allowed merchant navy ratings to sign on for the duration --they kept MN pay scales but the articles included being subject to KR&AI's and the RN discipline acts.

I think an earlier post mentions the STUFT mercantile vessels crews
during the Falklands campaign and a similar scheme.

Lots of RN paid guys not amused anyway due to the pay differences !

As for Bubby and his ancestor -----if he has the continuous discharge book
then its obvious the guy was MN. He may be due for the WW1 Merchant Navy medal . Only way to find out is to contact the Registry of Seamen
at Cardiff-or as I did for my Father s WW2 record the Merchant Navy Asociation website and they helped me.

Good hunting
Think you will find that that all personell (standfast NAFFI Damager) serving aboard "Men of War" are Naval. AMCs were Men of War. They flew the White Ensign. Merchant ships can be defensively armed. In both world wars that meant aft mounted guns only. So, as I said earlier, I suspect your man was officially a Merchant Sailor serving in the Navy. A mobilised member of the RNR. (As oposed to the RNVR who had used HMS Eagle as their Drill Ship just prior to the war but had mainly been mobilised as infantry in the Naval Brigade. But I digress.)
Reservists did have a book for recording training, rather like a seaman's discharge book. I sugest, though I honestly do not know, that a merchant book may just have been "impressed" for such use. Perhaps due to wartime shortages. The clue may lie in who has stamped and signed the entries.
More info.!
He was definitely shown in RN uniform in two photographs.
He was a writer which was a RN job (? done by purser in MN)
He had no previous naval experience before he either volunteered or was conscripted (grocer before and after) so not RNR.
Champagne was armed with 6x6" guns and 2x3 pounders.
Cont Cert of discharge says HMS Sunhill T124X; Champagne and Eagle just HMS and name. Book signed by captain. First page, as well as number of book, has a stamp C.R in an oval border.

As I presume his papers went down with the Champagne do you think "any old papers" were issued as a replacement? Especially towards the end of the war, and he had been posted to Eagle, a RNR ship, after leaving hospital and prior to being discharged.


War Hero
Book Reviewer
Just to help the discussion along, this is what an MN Discharge Book looks like:

.. as issued under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 (this one was issued in 1932). It contains a one-line entry for each voyage, signed off by the Master, with spaces for ship name, rating, and formal grade of conduct, i.e. 'Very Good'.
SP Thanks - you read it the right way, I don't think I did!

Seaweed - Thank you for the picture. The MN Discharge Book shown looks in excellent condition, given that it was issued in 1932.

I've found Mr Bolt on a general genealogical site - he turned 16 in May 1917 - but so far I have no further information on his time at sea.


Lantern Swinger

I'm only coming up with one Russell W A Bolt on Ancestry.com.
Russell Walter A Bolt, Birth, Devon 1891, he appears on the 1901 census aged 9, a groccer boy. Died 1964.

No, Bolt Surname, Christian names Russell W A
That's the one from Devon.
The Cont.Cert. of Doscharge book has the same crest at top, then name, then number and CCoD at bottom - issued in 1917/8
The inside is a line for each ship; columns are
Name of ship & official number, port of registry and tonnage (only name of ship filled in ? wartime secrecy)
Date & place of engagement (just ship's name except Eagle Liverpool)
Rating & RNR No if any (Jun wtr)
Date & place of discharge ( dates and Eagle)
Description of voyage
Signature of Master
on reverse
Report of character
Signature of Officer
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