Media release: 30 August 2021
While the national commemoration to honour those who served in the Merchant Navy during wartime is unable to proceed this week due to current COVID-19 alert levels, New Zealanders are welcome to participate in online activities to mark the occasion, says Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Pae Mahara Manager Brodie Stubbs.
"An Act of Remembrance ceremony was scheduled for Friday 3 September to honour the New Zealand seafarers who have served in times of conflict, particularly the several thousand who served during the First and Second World Wars, mostly sailing under the British red ensign," says Mr Stubbs.
"Some 70 are known to have lost their lives during the First World War and at least 140 during the Second World War, with a similar number taken prisoner.
"These civilian volunteers sailed the ships delivering troops, military equipment and vital cargoes of food, fuel and raw materials. Many ships were torpedoed or bombed and survivors sometimes spent days or weeks in lifeboats before being rescued.
"No other group of New Zealand civilians faced such risks during wartime," Mr Stubbs says.
With this work essential to the Allies' war effort the Merchant Navy was effectively regarded as the ‘fourth service’ alongside the army, navy and air force. As civilians employed by private shipping companies most did not wear uniforms. Some were as young as 14 years old and others were in their 60s and 70s.
"We appreciate that the cancellation of this commemoration will be disappointing, especially for veterans and their whānau. We look forward to honouring them in person at future commemorations.
"While we are unable to gather this year, we continue to remember the service and sacrifice of those lost, and to acknowledge the ongoing impact of war carried by those who came home and their families.
"Online resources will be available on the Pukeahu National War Memorial website and Facebook page this week for people wishing to mark Merchant Navy Day in their homes, and for those who would like to learn more about the role of the Merchant Navy," says Mr Stubbs.
Merchant Navy was a symbolic title adopted in Britain in the 1920s recognising the contribution of merchant mariners during the First World War. The date, 3 September, marks the sinking of the first British merchant ship in 1939, just hours after the Second World War began.
Read the 2021 message from Minister for Veterans, Hon Meka Whaitiri
View the 2021 Order of Service
Learn about New Zealand’s war contribution through the Merchant Navy:
The merchant marine in the First World War, NZ History, New Zealand history online
The Merchant Navy in the Second World War, NZ History, New Zealand History online
Updated on 14th September 2021