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The Quiet Heroes

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The Quiet Heroes. British Merchant Seamen at War. By Bernard Edwards. (Pen & Sword Books, 2002. Pg. 224.) ISBN: 0-8505-2911-5.

Reviewed by Herbert White - November 10, 2005

The Quiet Heroes offers a memorable and fascinating account of some of the overlooked heroes of World War II - the British Merchant Seamen who risked their lives transporting supplies, and most importantly food, through the U-Boat infested waters of the Atlantic. Manning unarmed vessels, the merchant seamen and their ships were easy targets for the Nazis, and many a brave man fell sailing on these defenseless ships that were so vital to the war effort.

In The Quiet Heroes - British Merchant Seamen at War, Bernard Edwards tells the story of these brave men, and he chronicles the important role that they had in helping the Allies win the war. He also details the everyday stress they had to endure, knowing that at any moment their ship could be torpedoed and sunk, and if so, that there was little chance that they would be rescued. Though civilians, the seamen of the British merchant fleet faced many of the same dangers that faced the members of the Royal Navy, albeit without the benefit of being able to fight back. In The Quiet Heroes, Edwards gives long overdue praise to the brave men who kept Britain supplied with food and other necessities throughout the war and who bravely sailed into danger on every voyage starting on September 3rd, 1939, when the Athenia was sunk without warning, through to the end of the war, by which time almost 30,000 British merchant seamen had been killed.

The Quiet Heroes is partly a straight history book, detailing the role played by the merchant seamen during the war, along with various accounts of their encounters with the enemy. It is also partly a biographical work that details the personal lives, feelings, and deeds of seamen from various walks of lives and ranks. Combined, this narrative style allows the reader to personally connect with the seamen mentioned in the book, and to better understand the hardships that they faced and to understand just how strong and brave these men had to be to risk their lives going unarmed into battle. Had they not been willing to take the risks that they did, Britain may have starved, and the war may well have ended differently. This book honors the memory of the British Merchantmen who plied the waters of the Atlantic throughout the dark days of World War II.

The Quiet Heroes is written in a readable and engaging style. It will fascinate anyone interested in naval warfare, British history during World War II, the history of merchant seamen, as well as anyone interested in reading the heroic stories of these brave sailors.

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