Obituary: Mervyn Sellick, seaman
Born: 10 November, 1918, in Cardiff. Died: 13 July, 2012 in Larbert, aged 93.
When Mervyn Sellick was born, on the eve of Armistice Day, the nation fervently hoped it had witnessed the war to end all wars. There was a determination that never again would there be the kind of suffering endured in the years between June 1914 and November 1918.
But just two decades after the Great War drew to a close, a second worldwide conflict broke out and Sellick became one of the young merchant seamen serving their country in the Atlantic Convoys that fuelled the fight for victory in the Second World War.
Born in the Welsh capital and known as Taffy, he was the son of George Sellick and his wife Elizabeth who ran a local fish business. His mother worked in the family fish shop and delivered fish on her bike while his father worked their various fishing boats.
Young Sellick left school at 14 and joined his father on the boats but it was a short-lived job – he couldn’t stand to see the fish suffering in the nets and left the family business behind, later joining the Merchant Navy.
He worked his way up from polishing brasses and became a fireman or stoker. Away for months at a time, his first vessel was the Innesmoor on which he sailed the world, east to west, never crossing the equator.
During the Second World War he served on vessels in the Atlantic Convoy, including the Findhorn, delivering cargos of equipment and supplies to support the Allies’ fight against Germany.
They were perilous but vital voyages that regularly entailed dodging U-boats and mines. By the end of the war, approximately 30,000 Allied merchant sailors had lost their lives. “We just had to do the best we could when you were in the open waters,” Sellick recalled, speaking just days before the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day. “There were times we had to man the five-inch gun that was at the back of the boat. If we saw any sign of a sub, then we jumped into action.”
He had one particularly close shave en route to Philadelphia when his ship managed to escape an enemy submarine. The crew later heard it had subsequently targeted and sunk another merchant vessel that same night.
On another occasion he witnessed a ship carrying a cargo of iron ore going down: “It had been torpedoed midship and we couldn’t do anything to help her. Another time, I remember looking up and the sky was dark with bombers.”
In 1944, having served on the Findhorn from January to May that year, he was assigned to the Vera Radcliffe on special operations in the run-up to the liberation of Europe. She left Oban for France and was scuttled off Normandy’s Juno beach as a blockship to prevent attack by enemy forces. He went on to serve on the Clydesdale and finished his war years on the Brora in 1945.
A couple of years later he married his first wife, Margaret, whom he had met while living in Glasgow. Widowed in the early 1960s, he married his second wife, Nancy, several years later.
He remained in the Merchant Navy until 1967, chalking up a 30-year career in which he served on more than 50 vessels and completed more than 100 voyages. He sailed mainly out of Glasgow, but for the last few years of his naval career was based at Grangemouth where he and Nancy had moved soon after their wedding.
The remainder of his working life was spent with the Forth Ports Authority where he worked operating swing bridges until retiring at 65.
Widowed for the second time in 1986, for the last ten years he lived at Grangemouth’s Morar Court sheltered housing accommodation, where he kept his naval log books.
A vibrant, independent and well-read man, he was also a challenging, sometimes difficult, straight-talking character who did not suffer fools gladly. And, though he loved to debate, like many of his generation he was reticent about discussing his war service in detail.
However, his contribution is catalogued in the National Archive along with the records of many of his fellow merchant seamen who helped provide to Britain with its lifeline and the resources for victory.
He is survived by his sons George and Michael and grandson Steven.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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