They answered the call
Newfoundland and Labrador remembers the 333 merchant mariners lost in Second World War
Honour, dignity and service. These are attributes strongly associated with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Then there are those who choose to serve in the many branches of the armed forces.
From 1939-45, when Newfoundland was still its own dominion, King George V came calling on the men and women and sometimes youth seeking the skills of the many mariners who sailed the rough seas on a daily basis.
“They turned to Newfoundlanders because they were the best small boatsmen in the world,” MHA Bernard Davis told the several hundred people who attended the Merchant Navy Memorial Service held at the Marine Institute in St. John’s on Thursday.
“We should all take pride in the bravery of our merchant navy. The legacy of the Newfoundland Merchant Navy continues to be honoured at this memorial, which only skims the honour and dignity of those who served,” Davis said.
The monument, erected 20 years ago at the Marine Institute, honours the 332 seamen and one woman from Newfoundland and Labrador killed by enemy action during the Second World War.
The work was dangerous and difficult, as sailors had to deal not only with the Atlantic’s unpredictable and often-hazardous weather conditions, but also with a constant threat of U-boat attack.
Merchant mariners played a vital role transporting desperately needed food, equipment and personnel to Britain and other Allied countries on non-military vessels. Although not part of the armed forces, these men and women faced constant threat from enemy submarines, destroyers and aircraft seeking to cut off supply lines.
“This memorial is a symbol of the freedom and the vital role these mariners played in supplying a seaborne lifeline to Europe during the war,” said Dr. Rob Shea, associate vice-president (academic and student affairs).
“They risked their lives to protect the lives of others.”
Shea said the Canadian, U.S. and British navies served in a common fight, one that should never be forgotten.
It is estimated that more than 60,000 merchant mariners were killed during the First World War and Second World War, including the 333 from this province.
Thousands of merchant mariners were killed at sea; hundreds more were captured and sent to prisoner of war camps.
St. John’s East MP Nick Whalen said the sacrifices made by these merchant mariners laid the groundwork for things such as the education and the freedom of speech that Canadians enjoy.
“As an educational opportunity, everyone should speak to a veteran to learn of their experiences from a generation that gave so much,” he said.
Cpl. Stephanie Furey, CD of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment band, performed the “Last Post” and “Reveille” at the Merchant Navy Memorial Service held at the Marine Institute in St. John’s on Thursday.