Allied Merchant Navy Memorial
Located at The Marine Institute in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Plans for this memorial were initiated by the members of the Canadian Merchant Navy Association at St. John's. Contributions came from many sources, the main designer and financier being the Johnson Family Foundation at St.John's. Upkeep and maintenance is provided by the Pippy Park Foundation of St.John's and the Marine Institute.
This monument was erected to the Allied Merchant Navy men and women who lost their lives in World War II. On the top of the black marble-topped monument are the names of 332 men and one woman who lost their lives. It contains the crests of a number of Allied Countries and the names of 333 Newfoundlanders.
The monument is erected between two buildings at the Marine Institute in St. John's, Newfoundland. In the clear view beyond is the St. John's Narrows through which many of the merchant seamen sailed to their deaths. This harbour was the home port for naval vessels which provided convoy protection on the North Atlantic. This port was a safe haven for torpedo- damaged ships. Crews from torpedoed ships of the Allied Merchant Navies were landed here and found a haven of rest until they returned to their home ports or shipped out as crew on other ships.
The Merchant Navies operated throughout the world long before the outbreak of WWI. With vessels manned by highly trained officers and crew, they provided efficient, professional service. At the outbreak of each of the World Wars, Merchant Navies were commandeered to fill a new and pressing need. In 1939, merchant vessels from the allied nations, were brought together to form the Allied Merchant Navy.
Many of the officers who served in the Merchant Navy, particularly those from Commonwealth countries, later transferred to the regular forces. In fact, in the Canadian Navy in WWII, most senior officers had come through the ranks of the Merchant Navy.
Merchant Navies played a critical role in both World Wars, transporting war materials, troops, fuel and ammunition throughout the world. The ships were also called on to assist in evacuation and troop landings. They battled the treacherous North Atlantic, and German U-Boats which lay in wait to sabotage their missions. An estimated 60,000 Allied Merchant Navy men and women lost their lives assuring a reliable flow of goods across the Atlantic.
They were an equally important arm of the Allied forces who risked their lives and many lost them along with their comrades in the navies and air forces.
Most merchant crews were made up of older men, and young boys, some as young as 15 years of age. A small number of women served with the Merchant Navy. These crews were given no formal training in survival or shipboard duties. Through their endurance and tenacity, they nonetheless survived five years of North Atlantic gales and U-boat attacks. These brave men operated ships alongside on board navy DEMS personnel.
The Merchant Navy was a volunteer organization. Without uniforms to identify them on shore, these crews did not enjoy the special treatment and respect that uniformed officers could expect.
The Merchant navies kept a constant supply of food and essential goods traveling across the ocean throughout the Wars. Crews on tankers and ammunition ships worked daily with the knowledge that they had no chance of surviving a torpedo attack.
On Remembrance Day every year, we honour our war veterans and those who sacrificed their lives. The merchant Navy is seldom included in these services, however, due in part to the non-military status of the Navy. It is time to recognize the contribution made to the war by the Merchant Navy.