This Saturday marks Merchant Navy Day, the official day of remembrance for those who served and lost their lives in the Merchant Navy during WWI and WWII.

More than 140 New Zealand seafarers lost their lives during WWII alone and a similar number were taken prisoner.

Those who were killed ranged in age from two 15-year-old deck boys, Dennis Burke and Hugh Walls, to 66-year-old chief engineer Thurston Chadwick. No other group of kiwi civilians faced as much danger during war time.

The term “Merchant Navy” includes ships and workers associated with commercial shipping companies used during both world wars.These ships often operated in dangerous conditions and were targeted by enemy vessels trying to disrupt commerce and trade.

Darryl Pike, Interim Director of the New Zealand Maritime Museum Hui Te Ananui a Tangaroa, says the Merchant Navy played an integral role in the war effort.

“As an island nation, Aotearoa has always relied heavily on seafarers to connect us with the wider world,” he says.

“During both world wars, merchant mariners delivered troops, military equipment and cargoes of food, raw materials and fuel. The work they carried out was so important that they were essentially regarded as the ‘fourth service’ alongside the navy, army and air force – despite the fact that they were civilians.”

Pike stresses that these men and women were not trained in combat.

These weren’t trained soldiers. They were engineers, radio officers, pursers, cooks and deck hands. Many of these roles still exist in our modern shipping industry – and they continue to play a vital role in keeping our economy afloat.

“It’s merchant mariners who carry our trade and maintain ocean links that connect us with the wider world. We rely on them to deliver products to our shores and to send our exports to the far reaches of the globe.”

New Zealand Maritime Museum Merchant Navy Day Commemoration

When: Saturday, 3 September | 11am – 12pm
Where: New Zealand Maritime Museum, corner of Quay & Hobson Streets, Viaduct Harbour
Cost: This ceremony is free but registration is required prior to attendance.

To register for the in-person event or for the live-stream, visit the museum’s website.

Merchant Navy Day