On September 3 each year, groups of supporters gather to recognise the selfless heroism shown by the brave American, British and Commonwealth Merchant Navies seaman of all ranks, says former merchant seaman Dave Bosley.
This year's remembrance day has been called off due to Covid, but Dave wanted to share a tribute he gave by invitation from Father Bill Chapman at St George's Chapel in Crownthorpe three years ago.
"I would very much like to express my thanks to Father Bill for giving me the opportunity and privilege to speak to you all of the selfless heroism shown by the brave American, British and Commonwealth Merchant Navies seaman of all ranks.
"In particular their gallant service during the first and second world wars. Many of the merchantman's ships' crew were just boys of 14 years of age — pantry boys and deck boys — and on the other end of the spectrum, some seafarers, fireman, stokers, greasers and on deck, including catering staff, were well into their 70s.
"They were all dedicated to safely getting their precious and desperately needed cargoes of food, troops, munitions, fuel and raw materials from A to B for the war effort, to enable Britain and her allies to survive.
"Like Britain, New Zealand has its very own cargo ships, which were initiated with a joint venture between Norman Kirk's Labour Government and the Shaw Savill Company, with the two refrigerated vessels Laurentic and Zealantic. Unfortunately in 1989 the government of the day sold its own shipping company, which today leaves New Zealand at the mercy of the foreign-owned shipping companies.
"During the First World War more than3000 British flagged ships, which included fishing vessels, were sunk to the bottom of the sea with the loss of more than 5000 seaman's lives.
"During the second World War over 4700 British flagged ships were sunk to the bottom of the oceans, which resulted in the loss of over 29,000 mostly unarmed seafarers' lives.
"The most staggering loss of life of all the other forces — army, air force, Royal Navy — was the Merchant Navy, which lost 20 per cent of their number. The majority took place in the German U-Boat infested icy cold waters during the battle for the North Atlantic.
"Royal Navy, American and Canadian Navy escorted convoys of merchantman who were not only open to air attack but from the sea, by the dreaded wolf packs of submarines, forever stalking their prey to sink their desperately needed cargoes. Some ships that couldn't keep up to speed with the main convoy and lagged behind very soon became easy victims of their deadly torpedoes.
"Those poor soles have no headstones but the white caps on the sea. Many of those crews killed, drowned, burnt to death, came from all corners of the world. No matter, all were classed as civilians, not even recognised as serving men or women. Those very same merchant seamen were not eligible to join the NZ Returned Services Club.
"Also, if a ship got reported lost, missing or sunk through enemy action, or if some of the ships' crew had been taken prisoner of war, the ship's owners would immediately write (telegram) informing the wife, mother or next-of-kin that the allotment of his or her wages of those unfortunate seafarers had been stopped forthwith.
"In those cold dark days we would have given many thanks to the charity Widows & Orphans along with other such charitable organisations.
"A chilling thought, having to solely survive on charity to house, feed and clothe your family. How true the saying, 'As cold as charity', especially while serving and 'carrying out one's duty' while dangerously supplying your own, or in many cases, other people's countries. Britain would have surely not been able to survive had it not been for all the brave, committed seaman of the Merchant Navy.
"I believe it would be fair to say the same about the Merchant Navy as what Winston Churchill said of the gallantry and human sacrifice made by the Royal Airforce after the Battle of Britain. 'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.'
"Our thanks to the New Zealand Government who since 2010, has implemented NZ Merchant Navy Day, to be recognised on September 3 each year. The fourth service. They kept the lifeline secure. They also served. Lest we forget."