Tenth Anniversary of Canada's Merchant Navy

Ottawa - September 10, 2013

In World War Two, 12,000 brave men and women served in Canada’s Merchant Navy. Of that number, 1,629 Canadian and Newfoundland men and women lost their lives due to enemy action— a higher rate than in any of the other armed services.

One just has to look at the list of ships lost, especially in 1942, to appreciate the human and material cost of that service. In fact, during the height of the Battle of the Atlantic, the Allies on average lost one 10,000-ton ship every 10 hours for 31 straight days.

During the war, the Canadian Merchant Navy evolved into the world’s fourth largest wartime fleet, making more than 25,000 merchant ship voyages. The meager 38 ocean-going merchant vessels that Canada had at the start of the war grew exponentially. By 1944, merchant ships were being launched at a rate of almost two per week and by the time the last wartime ship was launched, three hundred and fifty-four 10,000 ton and forty-three 4,700 ton vessels had been produced.

An army runs on beans, bullets, and fuel and the Merchant Navy made victory possible by maintaining essential supply lifelines of food, munitions, petroleum and troops, at extreme personal risk.

When we talk about the cost of war, we generally talk about lives lost and ships sunk. Too often we forget about the human cost to those who survived: the effects of years of working in a hostile environment with poor living conditions; the stress of serving on a floating time bomb of ammunition and fuel that, at any moment, could be attacked by a submarine; and the effects of seeing the aftermath of such attacks and the death of colleagues and friends.

Yet despite these difficult conditions of service and the very high risk of injury or death, Canadians and Newfoundlanders volunteered in droves to join the Merchant Navy.  Many of these volunteers were under the age of 17 and over the age of 60. One of the major challenges facing the Merchant Navy was finding enough sailors to crew the ships due to the manpower demands of the armed forces.

For many years, the Merchant Navy’s contribution to the war effort fell between the cracks. It was not until 1992 that Merchant Navy members became formally recognized as Veterans. Then, in 2003, Canada earmarked September 3 to acknowledge the contribution of the Veterans of the Merchant Navy to ensuring the freedom and democracy enjoyed by Canadians.

This year was the 10th anniversary of Merchant Navy Veterans Day, with activities across the country culminating at a ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Sunday, September 8. If you know a Merchant Navy Veteran, take the time to thank him or her for their service. If you do not know one, then here is a link to personal accounts of individual sailors.


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