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Merchant Navy Day Commemoration Honours Civilians’ Commitment

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, Tamsin Evans, Pou Mataaho o Te Hua Deputy Chief Executive Delivery Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage said today.
“This 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,” Tamsin Evans said.
“The date, 3 September, marks the sinking of the first British merchant ship in 1939, just hours after the Second World War began 81 years ago.
“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.
“This year’s commemoration will be attended by Defence Minister Ron Mark and Chris Penk MP representing the Opposition, with representatives from Taranaki Whānui, the Diplomatic Corps, New Zealand Merchant Navy Association, New Zealand Russian Convoy Club, Royal New Zealand Navy and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association.
“In response to the current COVID-19 pandemic this commemoration, as with all national commemorations scheduled for the remainder of 2020, will take the form of an Act of Remembrance (wreath laying ceremony) held at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and regrettably members of the public are unable to attend,” Tamsin Evans 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. 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 or 70s.

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