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Tuesday’s Merchant Navy Day Commemoration Marks Civilians Significant Commitment

Media release: 30 August 2019

The national commemoration honouring those who served in the Merchant Navy during wartime is being held at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park on 3 September, Brodie Stubbs Manager Te Pae Mahara, Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage said today.

“This significant commemoration honours the several thousand New Zealand seafarers who served both in the First and Second World Wars, mostly sailing under the British red ensign,” Brodie Stubbs said.

“The date, 3 September, marks the sinking of the first British merchant ship in 1939, just hours after the Second World War began 80 years ago.

“Members of the public are welcome to attend the commemoration beginning at 11.00am with a karanga called by Felicity Buchanan, Taranaki whānau, the Seven Seas carillon bell will be tolled six times and the flag parade led by the Red Ensign of the New Zealand Merchant Navy will follow.

“Some 70 New Zealand sailors are known to have lost their lives during the First World War and at least 130 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,” Brodie Stubbs said.

Merchant Navy was a symbolic title adopted in Britain in the 1920s recognising the contribution of merchant mariners during the First World War.

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. And 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.

This year’s commemoration will be attended by Defence Minister Ron Mark and other Members of Parliament, with representatives from Taranaki Whānui, the Diplomatic Corps, Merchant Navy Association, NZ Shipping Federation, NZ Company of Master Mariners, NZ Merchant Service Guild, Russian Convoy Club, Royal New Zealand Navy and Wellington City Council.

People wishing to attend the commemoration are advised to be at the National War Memorial by 10.45am.


More information about the New Zealand’s war contribution to the Merchant Navy is available at:

Published on 30th August 2019