They an­swered the call

New­found­land and Labrador re­mem­bers the 333 mer­chant mariners lost in Sec­ond World War

The Western Star - - Obituaries/local - BY SAM MCNEISH

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.

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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.

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