Records of The Watch Ashore



Admin History:

The Watch Ashore (WA) was formed by the Honourable Mrs Dorothy Nelson-Ward in 1933. It had arisen from an interest in the discussions between her husband, Admiral Philip Nelson-Ward, President of the Officers Federation, and Captain WH Coombs, founder of the Officers (Merchant Navy) Federation, at their Sussex home. She felt that the wives and mothers of officers would be eager to assist in the work to improve conditions for Merchant Navy (MN) Officers at a time of intense depression within the British shipping industry.

The aim was to provide a useful social service where Officers' wives were able to meet others who shared the loneliness and special responsibilities that resulted in having husbands away for long periods. The WA was not a policy forming organisation, but endorsed and furthered policy in shipping affairs, aiming to be non-political. The Rules agreed at their inaugural meeting on 20 February 1933 state that they shall 'form a bond of mutual interest between the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and others interested in the wellbeing of the Officer personnel of the Merchant Navy of the British Empire' and 'further and promote the objects of the Officers (MN) Federation' U DWA/1/4/1.

Their pre-war work was divided equally between being a 'pressure' and social group. From 1939 they quietly and effectively assisted existing bodies, such as the National Savings Movement, hospital visits and knitting thousands of garments. Shortly after the end of hostilities in Europe the WA were asked to augment a successful effort made to reject a proposal that the income of MN Officers should be reduced.

Following the inaugural meeting on 20 February 1933 WA branches formed in most principal ports quickly, beginning with Cardiff in 1934 followed by Glasgow and Liverpool in 1934. By the end of 1946 The Watch Ashore had 12 branches: Aberdeen, Bath, Belfast, Bristol and Avonmouth, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Falmouth, Glasgow, Merseyside, Penarth, Teeside and the North East Coast Section (Blyth, Jarrow, Newcastle, North and South Shields, Sunderland, Whitley Bay and Jesmond Dene).

By 1949 the social aspect of WA had become the most important as there was less demand for it as a pressure group. Its 1600 active membership took part in a range of activities such as lectures, dances, whist drives, excursions, domestic science demonstrations, parties for children whose fathers had been lost at sea and the Sea Cadets. The WA was also represented on the Governing Board of the British Ship Adoption Society. The 1950s saw the WA raise concerns over war widows' pensions, the extension of the privileges enabling wives to travel in their husbands' ships from port to port in the UK and on the Continent, being able to live on board while in port, the installation of radar in every MN vessel and provisions for officers and men leaving the sea due to war-strain.

In 1976 WA undertook a reorganisation with the creation of a triennially elected chairman. However the organisation has suffered from a shrinking membership, mirroring the fate of the British Merchant Navy. This has meant that many of the meetings have returned to their beginnings with many being held in member's homes.

In 2013 WA has 6 branches, Plymouth, Southampton, Glasgow, London, Edinburgh and Humber who still take part in charity fund raising, outings and activities. The organisation has representatives on various Merchant Navy Welfare Boards and are involved in the Seafarers Link, a phone service for retired seafarers.

Minutes, correspondence, calendars of events, photographs and other papers relating to the national and local branches of the organisation. Local level material mainly relates to Glasgow and Merseyside branches. Also includes copies of The Watch Ashore, a short history of the organisation written for their 25th anniversary in 1958 and updated for their 50th anniversary in 1983.