Harrison WW1 service

Matt Gibbs
8th July 2011, 21:58
Hello folks, and a good evening.
I am trying, and mostly banging my head, to understand and further my research into a mercantile marine sailor who began his apprentice career in 1913.
His name is Robert Rowland Harrison. He was born in 1896 in Newcastle. In the 1911 census he is listed as living with his parents at 78 Maughan Street Benwell, his father, tellingly, is a fitter working at an engineering trade. In 1912 Robert joined the fairly new Territorial Force as 804 Sapper Robert Harrison age 17 and 4 months. His trade is Fitter and Turner for Armstrong Whitworths.

However, in the file is a copy of a letter he wrote on 20th Sept 1913 resigning to his CO because he is going to sea to take up his apprenticeship in the Stag Line Ltd of North Shields.

I then have copies of what I believe is his Mercantile Marine Medal Card with a Dis A Number 890299 and a RS2 number 331458. What do these numbers mean? They confirm he was issued Mercantile Marine ribbon and British Medal Ribbon on 10 Feb 1920 to MMO Newcastle. What is MMO?
Then is states Mercantile Marine Medal issued 14 Jan[?] 1927, to Cramer St Gateshead, which I assume is his new address. Why the 7 year gap till the medal issue? Was he overseas working I wonder or is this normal?
The other paper copy says CR10 and has name info and a rating which looks like 2 then something like a 1 over a small letter M. There is no info for a B/T certificate. Then there is a photo on the back, with the same RS2 number on is, and next to this what looks like the word Wethersfield and 11.19. I assume this is November 1919, and the ships name.
I am having a devil of a time finding anything on the ship. The only mention I can find oddly is the SS Wethersfield, a British Merchant vessel being escorted by the USS Artemis from Gibraltar to Spain in September 1918, and assuming this is correct the ship must exist somewhere! The name of the ship on the card is quite badly scrawled though. There also might be a couple of other names maybe in pencil or a coloured ink which didn't show up on the paper, which is annoying. It might be just residual but it almost looks like it might have been rubbed out.
How long would an apprenticeship last? If it was say 5 yrs that would kind of fit 1913 to 1918 and account for him getting the CR10 record card after that. Assuming he didn't then drop out of a life on the sea straight away then how can I find out about his post WW1 service?
Matt Gibbs

PS forgot to add, I have his medals. He is down as R R Harrison Q.M. M.F.A. I assume this is Quartermaster and Mercantile Fleet Auxilliary?

Hugh MacLean
8th July 2011, 22:50
Hello Matt,

I then have copies of what I believe is his Mercantile Marine Medal Card with a Dis A Number 890299 and a RS2 number 331458. What do these numbers mean?

A Dis A. is the seaman's pivotal reference akin to a service number. Usually this will be represented as a 5 or 6 digit number for those who joined late 19th/early 20th Century. After these had run out the digits were prefixed with the Letter R [usually]. When researching a merchant seaman it is a good idea to go armed with this Dis A. as this will ensure a thorough search when researching the various archives.

An RS2 was a seaman's identity book of the time.

MMO = Mercantile Marine Office.

how can I find out about his post WW1 service?

Have a look here: http://www.southampton.gov.uk/s-leisure/artsheritage/history/maritimehistory/centralindex.aspx write to them and quote the Dis A. number and R.S.2 number ask for a search of their archives should cost 15.

There are no surviving personal records for WW1 so tracing is via Crew Agreements. Your best bet is to start with Southampton and take it from there.


9th July 2011, 00:48
This may be the ship you are looking for :

S.S. WETHERSFIELD : Cargo Steamer built in 1903
Builder : Swan & Hunter of Wallsend
Yard Number : 287
Official Number : 114445
Gross Tonnage : 1,877 tons
Propulsion : Single Screw - Triple Expansion Steam Reciprocating
Output : 210 NHP
Manufacturer : North Eastern Marine Engineering Coy., Sunderland
Vessel Speed : 11 knots
Flag on launching : Canadian
Port of Registration : Montreal

1903 - Launched as WESTMOUNT for Montreal Transportation Coy. Ltd.
1916 - Renamed WETHERSFIELD for Inter-American S.S. Coy. Ltd.
1917 - Ownership changed to Canadian Maritime Coy. Ltd.
1920 - Ownership changed to E. J. Heinz (London) Ltd.
1923 - Renamed MAX BERNSTEIN for Arnold Bernstein - German Flag
1926 - Renamed FORDSON I for Arnold Bernstein - German Flag
1926 - Renamed TRACTOR for Arnold Bernstein - German Flag
1937 - Renamed LUDOLF OLDENDORFF for Egon Oldendorff - German Flag

The vessel remained under the German flag for Egon Oldendorff during WWII but was sunk on 9th October 1944 at Suirevaag, Egersund, when in comvoy with other transports. They were attacked by Allied aircraft from 404 Squadron, R.C.A.F. with heavy casualties.

Matt Gibbs
10th July 2011, 20:08
Hello again, many thanks to Hugh and eriskay, your information is very helpful and a good explanation of what I need to be looking for. I am sure the ship mentioned is the right one to start off with. I will get in touch with the Southampton record and see if they can help. I am assuming that the crew agreements are for one vessel at a time, or does each one lead to the next. Of course he could have retired quite soon after WW1 but somehow I doubt an apprentice would have, and until the 1921 census comes available there's no easy way of finding out other than any marine service records.
Many thanks for the help :)

Hugh MacLean
10th July 2011, 21:29
Hello Matt,
The records at Southampton won't include Crew Agreements. The Central Index Register has details of a mariner's dates of engagement or discharge on board particular vessels.

There is a Crew Agreement for 'WETHERSFIELD' for the years 1918 and 1919 at the Maritime History Archive in Canada: http://www.mun.ca/mha/holdings/viewcombinedcrews.php?Official_No=114445

Crew Agreements usually give the name of the seaman's previous ship so as long as it is noted you will be able to back track through these Agreements to pin point his ships during WWI.

Regards (Thumb)

Roger Griffiths
10th July 2011, 23:17
It may also be in your interest to look at the register of Apprentices
You will note that most BT151 records have been destroyed but you may get lucky.


Matt Gibbs
13th July 2011, 06:24
Thank you Roger and Hugh for your help and patience. The register of apprentices will probably be worth consulting because I know from the copy of his letter he certainly took an apprentice position with Stag.

I realise now the value of having such a place as the PRO, but also how records get distributed all over the place! I found the canadian website but I will try Southampton and then the BT150 and 151 records when I can, unless I can get someone to have a look.