This Saturday, September 3, is Merchant Navy Veterans Day in Canada.
The Merchant Navy Memorial was dedicated on November 11, 1993 at Sackville Landing in Halifax, “in memory of 2200 known Canadian merchant seamen and 91 Canadian vessels lost by enemy action and those who served in the cause of freedom.”
Shipping troops, weapons, munitions, hospital personnel, horses and supplies across the Atlantic pushed Canada’s resources to the limit in WW1. “From an average of 45,000 tonnes of cargo a month in 1915, shipping from Canada increased to 351,000 tonnes a month in 1918.” (Patricia Giesler, Valour at Sea, Veterans Affairs Canada, 2005) German U-boats made crossing dangerous. Canadian sailors crewed Allied ships and, in early 1918, Canada established the Canadian Government Merchant Marine. It was dismantled shortly after the end of the war and reinstated with the start of WW2. Over 500 merchant sailors from Canada and Newfoundland are known to have died in WW1.
Those who served in the Merchant Navy were not eligible for full veteran pensions and other benefits. Because they were not subject to military discipline and could quit at any time, they were considered civilians rather than military sailors. Only in 1992 did the Canadian government start to grant the wider range of benefits to them. Legislation to mark Merchant Navy Veterans Day was passed in 2003.
In addition to the Halifax memorial, plaques declaring the Canadian Merchant Navy as “the life line of the world” are now peppered across the country. The one below is in Collingwood, ON.