The Company of Master Mariners of Canada has played a major role in advocating on behalf of Merchant Navy veterans since its founding in 1967. Many of our Members served in Allied merchant ships during World War II (WWII) and the Korean War.
The Company took a more proactive role starting in 1990 when several of our Members — in cooperation with other veterans representing other Merchant Navy associations — started appearing before Senate and House of Commons Standing Committees advocating on behalf of Merchant Navy veterans for:
- equal access to equal veterans benefits,
- compensation for lost opportunities, and
- recognition of the Merchant Navy as a war service.
In 1 May 1999 amendments to veteran’s legislation (Bill C-61) came into force ensuring equal access and recognition of the Merchant Navy, and on 1 February 2000 the Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada announced a compensation package (Merchant Navy Veteran Special Benefit) for Merchant Navy veterans.
After about fifty-five years Merchant Navy veterans were finally granted the recognition and compensation they had been so unfairly denied for many years. There were many reasons for this long delay in gaining recognition and compensation such as: small client group; lack of appreciation of the vital wartime role of the Merchant Navy by the general public, government and other veterans’ associations; and most important, the inability of the Merchant Navy groups to work together effectively to achieve their common goals.
The Company is particularly pleased with the results of our advocacy because not only have our veterans been recognized but it sets an important precedent for our future Members in the case Canada is ever called upon again to man a wartime fleet. Never again will the Merchant Navy be ignored.
The role of the Canadian Merchant Navy in the Second World War has been designated as an event of National Historic Significance on 11 September 2005
On 27 March 2000, Captain Ralph Burbridge of the Capital Division of the Company attended a “Meet and Greet” as the Merchant Navy representative at a Work Shop sponsored by Parks Canada. Captain Burbridge noted that there was very little mentioned in the background papers about the vital role of the Canadian Merchant Navy during the Second World War. He followed up with a letter to the Historic Services Branch of Parks Canada expressing his concern and giving an excellent summary of Canada’s important role in both the building and manning of a wartime fleet.
In a follow up to Captain Burbridge’s initiative, the Capital Division on 18 July 2000, submitted a request on behalf of the Company to the Department of Canadian Heritage [responsible department for Parks Canada] for national recognition of the Canadian Merchant Navy for its vital role in the Second World War.
The Company was informed by a letter dated 21 February 2002 from the Honourable Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage, that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (Board) considered the role of the Canadian Merchant Navy in the Second World War and recommended its designation and commemoration as an event of national historic significance by means of a bilingual bronze plaque in Halifax. The letter mentioned above has attached a full description of the Board’s report.
The Merchant Navy Plaque in De Wolf Park on Bedford NS waterfront
The Capital Division initiated and guided this request through official channels on behalf of the Company. Captain Alan Knight offered to be the Company’s local contact person to coordinate the planning and execution of this project with local Heritage officers in Halifax.
On 23 August the Company was formally invited to attend the Sunday 11 September 2005 unveiling of a plaque commemorating the “Role of the Merchant Navy in the Second World War” as a member of the official party. Captain Claude Ball, Divisional Master of the Maritimes Division attended as the Company’s official representative. The unveiling was held at 1330 hours at Pier 21 National Historic Site of Canada, 1055 Marginal Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Address by Captain Claude Ball, Maritimes Divisional Master
“It is my pleasure to be here today representing the Company of Master Mariners of Canada. We are a corporation established to serve the shipping industry, further the efficiency of the sea service and uphold the status, dignity and prestige of Master Mariners.
We are thrilled to be involved with this ceremony commemorating the Role of the Canadian Merchant Navy in the Second World War. For several years, the company has been involved in making this plaque dedication a reality. We would like to thank Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for recognizing the historical significance of the Canadian Merchant Navy.
Most of all, we would like to thank the Merchant Navy Veterans for their dedication, perseverance and courage while facing the enemy in the icy waters of the Atlantic, and fighting for the freedom that Canadians enjoy today.
It is extremely important that their efforts be recognized and duly commemorated in order that today’s youth understand the sacrifices generations before them have made to ensure their freedom.
Thank you for being here today to share in this special commemoration.”
The Government of Canada Unveils a Plaque to Commemorate the National Historic Significance of the Merchant Navy
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, September 11, 2005 — On behalf of the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable Geoff Regan, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, today unveiled a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque commemorating the role of the Canadian Merchant Navy during the Second World War as an event of national historic significance. He stated:
“The Canadian Merchant Navy made a significant contribution to the Allied victory in the Second World War by transporting, often under dire conditions, materiel and military personnel throughout the world to sustain the Allies against the enemy,” said Minister Dion. “Of the approximately 12,000 Canadian and Newfoundland and Labrador merchant seamen who sailed the world’s oceans in support of the Allied war effort, 1,629, including eight women, sacrificed their lives.
During the course of the Second World War, merchant navy ships made more than 25,000 voyages between North American and British ports, delivering more than 164 million tons of goods to assist the United Kingdom. Of this amount, 41.4 million tons of goods were loaded on 7,357 ships that sailed from Canadian ports, primarily Halifax and Sydney, for the high seas.
Merchant Navy seamen faced a determined enemy, an uncompromising environment and deplorable working conditions,” said Minister Regan. “The Merchant Navy crews had to navigate inhospitable waters, and were often confronted with inclement weather, mines, German U-boats and surface raiders attempting to cut off all supplies to the Allied countries.”
Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque commemorating the Merchant Navy
Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of the Environment about the national historic significance of places, people and events that have marked Canada’s history. The placement of a commemorative plaque represents an official recognition of their historic value. It is one means of educating the public about the richness of our cultural heritage, which must be preserved for present and future generations.
Lost Canadian Seafarers and Ships
The official record of Canadian Seafarers lost in World Wars I and II are listed in the Merchant Navy “Books of Remembrance.” These books can be found on the Veterans affairs Canada (VAC) website at: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/books/merchant
The number of Canadians lost during the two World Wars may be greater than the number shown in the Books as many Canadians sailed on allied and neutral ships during this period and their sacrifice may never have been recognized. Numbers vary, and the Company has recognized 570 in the First World War and 1629 in the Second, these totals have been lifted from the Books. Research is continuing to find names of those who are still unknown, and as these names come to light they will be added to the Book’s agenda.
There does not appear to be any official Government record of lost Canadian ships in World Wars I and II. The best listing for World War II has been prepared by Robert C. Fisher and is entitled: :Canadian Merchant Ship Losses of the Second World War, 1939-1945.” This listing can be found at: http://www.familyheritage.ca/Articles/merchant1.html
The Company has prepared the following handout based on our own evaluation of ship losses.
Merchant Navy Veterans Day — 3 September
For several years the Company has been advocating that 3 September of each year be designated as “Merchant Navy Day.” A Resolution to that effect was passed at our Annual General Meeting in 2001. The United Kingdom also has a similar designated “Merchant Navy Day.”
Several other merchant navy veterans associations have also been active trying to achieve the same objective; however, not all agreed on what to call that day. Our choice was “Merchant Navy Day” while other suggestions were “Merchant Navy Veterans Day” and “Maritime Day.
The League of Merchant Mariner Veterans of Canada convinced Mr. Paul Bonwick, M.P., (Simcoe-Grey) to table Bill C-374 on 5 June 2001 to designate 3 September as “Merchant Navy Veteran’s Day.” This initiative received 1st Reading and then died on the Order Paper. Mr. Bonwick then reintroduced the Bill at the next session as C-411. This Bill received Royal Assent on 19 June 2003 and can be found in the Statutes of Canada 2003, c. 17. Please refer to: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/M-5.8/page-1.html#s-2
The Company is pleased at the outcome and invites Members to recognize this day as they would the “Battle of the Atlantic Sunday” and “Remembrance Day.”
Congratulations to all who contributed to this achievement.
The Valiants Monument
Valiants Memorial Unveiled
Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, veterans, currentlyserving members of Canada’s military, and young cadets took part in a ceremony on 5 November 2006 to unveil the Valiants Memorial, a new national monument.
The Valiants Memorial is a collection of nine busts and five statues depicting individuals from critical periods of conflict in our nation’s history and a large bronze wall. The inscription on the wall reads Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo. (“No day shall ever erase you from the memory of time”). The Memorial is located on the northeast side of the National War Memorial in Ottawa (the Sappers Stairway).
“War has had a profound influence on the evolution of our country,” said the Honourable Beverley J. Oda, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women.
“The Valiants Memorial honours the sacrifices and contributions of all those who have served their country in war and reminds us of the role that our military history has played in building our nation,” said Hamilton Southam, President of the Valiants Foundation.
The project is a collaboration between the Department of Canadian Heritage, the National Capital Commission, and the Valiants Foundation, which is composed of representatives from veterans groups, eminent Canadian military historians, and other notable advisors recognized in their fields. Other federal partners include Veterans Affairs, National Defence, the Canadian War Museum, and the Canada Council for the Arts.
The total cost of the project was about $1.1 million. Canadian Heritage provided just over 75 percent of the funding, and the Valiants Foundation the other 25 percent.
Canada, from its colonial beginnings in the 16th century to its emergence as a modern state in the first half of the 20th century, has passed through five major periods of war. Each was marked a decisive turning point in the country’s history. The Valiants Memorial commemorates fourteen men and women of remarkable courage and honours all Canadians who have served their country in war.
The French Regime (1534-1763)
In the many wars between France and Britain during these years, the courage and tenacity displayed by inhabitants of Acadia and New France ensured the permanency of French speaking societies in North America.
Comte de Frontenac (1620-1698)
The most renowned of the Governors of New France, he successfully defended Québec from English attack in 1690. Asked to surrender, he memorably exclaimed: “I have no reply to make other than from the mouths of my cannon.”
Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville (1661-1706)
As a great commander, born in Montreal, Iberville fought the English boldly, often against great odds. In 1697, when three English vessels attacked his ship Pélican in Hudson Bay, he sank one, boarded another and captured their outpost at York Fort.
American Revolution (1775-1783)
This ruthless, bloody conflict, fought along an extended frontier , divided the continent into two entities: the United States of America and British North America.
Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) (1742-1807)
A notable Mohawk warrior and statesman, and principal war chief of the Six Nations, he led his people in support of the British. After the war, he brought them to Canada to settle near where Brantford now stands.
John Butler (1728-1796)
John Butler gathered backwoods intelligence, led aboriginal troops, and raised a force of Loyalist refugees – Butler’s Rangers – to fight for Britain. Under his command, the Rangers fought from Kentucky to Niagara, where many settled.
War of 1812 (1812-1814)
Fought mainly to resolve Anglo-American quarrels, this war marked the successful resistance of British North America to American expansion. It was followed by lasting peace.,/p>
General Sir Isaac Brock, KB (1769-1812)
Commanding the forces of a deeply defeatist Upper Canada, he turned the tide of the American invasion when he captured Detroit in 1812. Later killed in the battle of Queenston Heights, it was his inspiration, energy and skill that saved Upper Canada.
Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, CB (1778-1829)
A skillful professional soldier, Salaberry formed the celebrated Voltigeurs canadiens. In 1813, he outwitted and defeated a vastly superior American force at the Battle of Chateauguay, helping to save Lower Canada from invasion.
Laura Secord, UE (1775-1868)
Thanks to Laura Secord, nearly five hundred Americans surrendered at Beaver Dams in1813, and a British defeat was averted. She had overheard plans for a surprise attack and struggled alone through miles of dense bush to warn the commander of the British outpost.
First World War (1914-1918)
Canada made huge human and economic sacrifices to support Britain and France in this terrible war. The achievements of her national army – the Canadian Corps – won Canada representation at the Paris Peace Conference and recognition of the international stage.
Georgina Pope, RRC (1862-1938)
A pioneering army nurse, she was the first Canadian awarded the Royal Red Cross for conspicuous service in the field and, in 1908, became the first matron in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She later returned to the battlefield in 1917 in France.
General Sir Arthur Currie, KCB, GCMC, DSM (1875-1933)
A courageous and innovative officer, he helped plan the great victory at Vimy Ridge. Then, as the first Canadian commander of the Canadian Corps, his brilliant leadership produced the sweeping Canadian victories of the war’s Last Hundred Days.
Corporal Joseph Kaeble, VC, MM (1892-1918)
Near Arras, France, with the 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion in June 1918, the only one of his section unwounded, he leapt to the parapet with his machine gun and single-handedly repulsed some fifty attacking Germans. He was fatally wounded and later awarded the Victoria Cross for his courage.
Second World War (1939-1945)
In this epic struggle against fascism, Canada mobilized her economy, and sent large land, sea and air forces into battle. With customary bravery, they contributed to victory in every theatre of war. These efforts earned Canada a strong, independent voice in the world.
Lieutenant Hampton Gray, VC,DSC (1917-1945)
A Canadian pilot serving with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, and previously decorated for heroism both in Norway and in the Pacific, he earned a posthumous Victoria Cross in August 1945. Despite intense enemy fire, he attacked and sank a Japanese destroyer before himself going down in flames.
Captain John Wallace Thomas, CBE (1888-1965)
Born in Newfoundland in 1885. He served in the merchant navy in the First World War and was thrice torpedoed. During all the Second World War he commanded the 26,000-ton Canadian Pacific ship Empress of Japan, (renamed Empress of Scotland after Japan entered the war). He was the only merchant navy recipient of the CBE, which he won for his skill in handling his ship while it was being attacked by the Luftwaffe off Ireland on 9 November 1940, in the area where her larger sister-ship Empress of Britain had been torpedoed just two weeks before. He died in Vancouver in 1965.
Captain Thomas with the Chateau Laurier in the background
Captain Thomas with the East Block in the background
Major Paul Triquet, VC (1910-1980)
Triquet won the Victoria Cross in 1943 for capturing Casa Berardi in Italy, a position of great tactical importance. Surrounded, he told his men: “there is only one safe place: that is on the objective”. When he dashed forward, the men followed.
Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski, VC (1916-1944)
An air gunner on a burning Lancaster bomber, he made heroic but unsuccessful efforts to save his trapped comrade, the rear gunner. The latter, who finally told Mynarski to save himself and bailout, miraculously survived the crash. Mynarski died of his burns. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Originally, the proposed monument did not recognize a member of the merchant navy; however, determined action by merchant navy associations, including the Company, persuaded the ad hoc planning group, politicians and government agencies to include the merchant navy.
The cost of the monument has been estimated at $1 million. The Foundation had undertaken to find $250,000 of this amount from Canadians and Canadian corporations.
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) Program Benefits
Services and Benefits for Merchant Navy Veterans
Those who served in the Second World War or Korean War. Please follow the links for detail on each Program Benefit.
Disability Pension and other Financial Benefits
Disability Pension Program
Funeral and Burial Program
Special Allowances (Clothing, Incapacity, Attendance)
War Veterans Allowance
Health Care Program
Long Term Care
Veterans Independence Program
Your Health Care Card
Online Services and Publications
Apply for a Disability Benefit
Guide to Health Care Benefits and VIP
Services and Benefits Booklet
Veterans Affairs Canada District Offices
Already a client?
Change your address
Living outside of Canada?
Request direct deposit
Salute! news publication
Crisis Help Line
How to get help
Promoting mental health
How do I Appeal? Know Your Rights
Bureau of Pensions Advocates
Veterans Bill of Rights
Veterans Review and Appeal Board
The Royal Canadian Legion provides veterans with free advice on VAC benefits — veterans should use caution in dealing with persons who charge for such advice
Legion Outraged Over Fees being Charged to Disabled Veterans
Ottawa – It has come to The Royal Canadian Legion’s attention that some unscrupulous people are charging fees to disabled veterans to help them complete disability claims. To make matters worse they are also making arrangements to take a percentage of the disability award when it is granted.
This must stop, immediately. While veterans are free to have anyone they desire help them with disability claims, they should not be charged for this service. We are also concerned that some veterans may be uninformed about assistance that is also readily available free of charge.
The Royal Canadian Legion is well suited to help identify and complete disability claims for veterans for free. For more than 80 years, we have provided exemplary and outstanding services to our veterans, including our serving members in the CF, the RCMP and their families free of charge – and these people do not have to be Legion members.
As we prepare to commemorate the sacrifices and accomplishments our veterans made for this country during the Battle of Vimy Ridge some 95 years ago, Canadians should remember the immense debt of gratitude we still owe our veterans. Any veteran or family member can call 1-877-534-4666 or visit our website at www.legion.ca for free assistance with your Veterans Affairs Canada Disability Application.
It is only just that they receive this service for free.
Merchant Navy Associations
The following Merchant Navy Associations are active in advocating on behalf of Merchant Navy Veterans:
Captain John McCann
Master Mariners of Canada
Saint John Port Authority
111 Water St
Saint John, NB, E2L 0B1
Tel: (506) 636-4884
Mr. Leslie Kemp
League of Merchant Mariner
Veterans of Canada
254 Park Road
Oshawa, ON, L1J 4M1
Tel: (905) 725-7226
Fax: (905) 725-1435
Mr. Bruce Ferguson
Canadian Merchant Navy Veterans Association
2108 Melrick Place
Sooke, BC, V9Z 1H7
Tel: (250) 642-2638
Mr. Harold Roberts
Merchant Navy Association
1119 Ambleside Drive
Ottawa, ON, K2B 8E2
Master Mariners of Canada
P.O. Box 56104
407 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON, K1R 7Z1
The Canadian War Museum
The Canadian War Museum reopened on the weekend of 7-8 May 2005 in the “Year of the Veteran.” The Museum is located on the LeBreton Flats and the south bank of the Ottawa River, west of Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa. Several Company members played a role on both these days.
The Museum is an impressive facility and well worth a visit. The exhibitions are divided into four chronological galleries. Each gallery highlights defining moments in Canada’s history and the ways past events have shaped our nation. Gallery 1 deals with the earliest times to 1885; Gallery 2 covers the South African and First World Wars; Galley 3 describes the Second World War; and Gallery 4 rounds it out with the Cold War, Peacekeeping and Recent Conflicts.
There are also other “Significant Spaces”: the LeBreton Gallery houses the military vehicles and artillery; the Memorial Hall that houses the headstone of Canada’s Unknown Soldier; and the John McCrae Gallery that will house special exhibitions. The Museum also has an extensive Military History Research Centre.
Merchant Navy Artifacts for the Canadian War Museum
On 19 August 2001, Dr. Granatstein, past Chairman of the Canadian War Museum (CWM) Advisory Council, reiterated his position to the Company as follows:
“When I was director [Director and Chief Executive Officer of the CWM], I expressed my own interest in a larger presentation of the MN role, but I made it clear that this was contingent on getting the artifacts to display. To the best of my knowledge, no artifacts came forward from any of the MN associations or MN individuals. …without artifacts, it is very hard to tell the story.”
The CWM solicits appropriate donations for exhibition or protective storage. The CWM does not have a formal budget to acquire artifacts. Persons who know of any suitable artifacts that would be appropriate for permanent or special exhibitions are encouraged to contact the CWM for more information. Some CMAC members may wish to make a donation while they are still able, and next-of-kin may also wish to donate items of deceased relatives who served in the wartime Merchant Navy.
If the CWM accepts an artifact it does not automatically mean that that artifact will be exhibited. Some artifacts are best for special events and may be kept in protective storage for years. Other artifacts may only be kept in protective storage and used for special studies or resource information for researchers. Donors can be assured however, that donated artifacts will receive proper care and held in the public trust. Donated artifacts will not be returned unless they have been conditionally loaned for a special event or exhibition. Donated items are evaluated and a tax receipt equal in amount to the evaluated value will be given to the donor.
Artifacts donated to the CWM will be judged as follows:
- Do they relate to and help tell the story of: The Canadian military [military in this case includes wartime merchant navy] in war and peace?
- Any military or fighting force operating within a Canadian historical context?
- Forces allied with Canada within the Canadian context?
- The enemy forces?
- Were they designed and/or developed in Canada for warlike or military use?
- Were they representing an important development in military style, which influenced military affairs and the conduct of war in general?
The CWM is particularly interested in artifacts that can be connected to persons and help tell a story. The following description of some artifacts will give a rough idea of some of the items being sought:
war art; posters; medals; uniforms; badges; flags; banners; small arms; merchant navy artillery and other merchant navy defensive weapons; technical equipment; models of merchant ships and catapult aircraft merchant ship (CAM) aircraft; other models and mockups; memoirs; archives; photographs; library; etc.
When offering a donation you should complete a 2 page “Offer of Donation” form. This form is attached as a pdf file for your convenience. Do not send anything until you have first contacted the CWM for advice and directions. Your first contact should be:
Ms. Et van Lingen
Tel: (819) 776-8663
Persons interested in identifying worthy artifacts are urged to contact anyone in their area they believe may be able to help such as municipal, provincial and federal governments; shipping companies, shipping agencies and industry associations, shipbuilders and maritime museums. Canadian companies that lost ships during the war is a good place to start — many of these companies are no longer carrying on business in Canada under their wartime name; however, there may be a successor still in shipping or other businesses who will welcome the opportunity to immortalize the memory of their wartime employees in the new Canadian War Museum by donating either artifacts or cash. A few of these companies that lost ships are:
Canadian Government; Canada Steamships; Quebec and Ontario Transport; Paterson Steamships; Canadian Lake Carriers; United Towing and Salvage; Canadian Tramp Shipping; Atlantic Transport; Imperial Oil; Saguenay Terminals; George L. Shaw; Canadian National; Canadian Pacific; Upper Lakes; Markland Shipping; Zwicker and Geldert; Richard T. Sainthill; Hall Corporation; Lemuel J. Ritcey; Frederick Sutherland; Dominion Shipping; Gulf and Lake Navigation; Park Steamship Company; Nova Scotia Steel; Bowater Paper; Donaldson Brothers.
It is up to all of us to ensure that the CWM tells the wartime Merchant Navy story.
Valour at Sea (Booklet)
In 1998 the Department of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) published a booklet entitled Valour at Sea [click on the link to open the booklet]. The front cover of this VAC booklet is shown below. This booklet describes the vital role of the Canadian Merchant Navy during the First and Second World Wars. VAC describes their booklet as follows:
This booklet is dedicated to the men and woman of the Canadian Merchant Navy whose courage, fortitude and determination in two world wars kept the ships sailing through the terrible years of unparalleled loss. In particular we remember the more than 2,100 men and women who gave their lives in the struggle for peace and freedom.
Valour at Sea Cover
The Merchant Navy Coalition for Equality was recognized by VAC in the booklets “Acknowledgements” as providing “… invaluable assistance and advice in the preparation of this booklet.” The Capital Division of the Company of Master Mariners of Canada represented the Company on the Coalition.
In 2001 the Friends of the Canadian War Museum published a Fact Sheet (No. 22) also entitled “Valour at Sea” that gives a brief summary of the Canadian Merchant Navy in World War II. This Fact Sheet is reproduced below in its entirety. booklets “Acknowledgements” as providing “… invaluable assistance and advice in the preparation of this booklet.” The Capital Division of the Company of Master Mariners of Canada represented the Company on the Coalition.
Valour at Sea (Fact Sheet)
Canada’s Merchant Navy in World War 2
The Fourth Arm of the Fighting Services
In 1939 Canada’s Merchant Navy consisted of four fleets: Fishing, Great Lakes, Coastal, and Ocean-Going. This paper addresses the Coastal and Ocean-Going fleets that operated in wartime dangerous waters. Many Great Lakes ships were sent to Great Britain to replace coastal tonnage lost by enemy action, and many more were operated under the Canadian flag in the dangerous North American coastal trade as far south as South America.
Prior to and in the early years of the war the Canadian Merchant Navy operated under similar conditions to the British Merchant Navy. This included similar pay, benefits, manning structure and conditions of service. As the war progressed a certain amount of Canadianization crept in particularly, with regard to the safety of ships, seafarers and cargo, and the licensing of officers and conditions of service. Canadian merchant shipping operations, however, were always closely integrated with those of Great Britain. The British Ministry of War Transportation had a strong presence at all major Canadian ports.
The Canadian fleet developed quickly during the war going from about 39 ocean and coastal ships, and 1,450 seafarers, to about 210 ships and 12,000 seafarers at the end of the war. By 1942 Canada was building its own ships and by the end of the war 403 ships had been built — 183 for the Canadian flag, and 220 for the British flag. The ownership of the Canadian ships rested with the Park Steamship Company that was a Crown corporation under the Department of Munitions and Supply.
The operation of these ships was contracted to private shipping companies and agents, who then assumed responsibility for the care and upkeep of the ships, ensuring the ships were properly manned, payment of all expenses and the collection of revenues. The powerful wartime Canadian and British economic administrations determined how the ships were to be used and where they would trade.
In the beginning of the war few merchant ships were armed but when it became obvious that these ships were the dedicated targets of the enemy the government fitted weapons which were primarily manned by naval gunners from the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve (DEMS). Merchant seafarers were required to take gunnery training and supplemented these naval crews.
As a part of Canada’s massive war effort, fourteen Canadian shipyards and seven engine manufacturers built the following ships: 403 ocean-going merchant ships, about 100 Coastal and Great Lakes ships, and 21 Maintenance and Repair ships. In addition, Canadian shipyards repaired over 5000 merchant ships, and built 487 warships and more than 3,500 support ships such as tugs and landing craft.
Of these buildings there were 188 British-operated “Fort” and 181 Canadian-operated “Park” merchant ships. The Fort and Park ships were generally identical and the most characteristic product of Canadian shipyards.
Typical 10,000 Ton Canadian Park [and Fort] Ship
Deadweight (tons of fuel and cargo carried)…10,000
Naval Gunners (DEMS)……………………………..7
While there were about 12,000 Canadian seafarers at war’s end many more sailed on Allied merchant ships. Another 2,000 DEMS gunners also served on Canadian ships.
For six long years Canadian and Allied merchant seafarers faced the enemy in the most appalling conditions. Weather, U-boats, surface-raiders, mines and aircraft were the principal dangers faced by these seafarers. At least 82 Canadian ships were lost during the war from enemy related action. Others were lost from other wartime related causes such as being directed to sail in conditions, and on routes, for which some of these ships had never been designed.
During the war the government declared the merchant navy the “fourth arm of the fighting services.”
The Book of Remembrance for the war dead of the Merchant Navy lists by name 1,629 seafarers. This figure includes the 461 known Canadian and Newfoundlanders that were lost on Allied or neutral ships, the Allied seafarers who were lost on Canadian and Newfoundland ships, and the 8 Canadians who died as prisoners of war. A total of 198 Canadians were prisoners of war and most of these were interned for up to 5 years.
It has been estimated that one in ten Canadian merchant seafarers lost their lives during the war; a higher ratio that any of the other three fighting services. Very few of these lost merchant seafarers are buried ashore — most lie at sea in “unmarked graves” with no memorial to describe their sacrifice.
In 1942, at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic, the British Government was fearful that the high casualty rates might break the morale of the merchant navy. A formal investigation concluded, however, that the morale was “admirable and wonderful” and the seafarer’s greatest complaint was the poor food at sea.
This fact sheet is dedicated to the memory of the more than 1,629 Canadian Merchant Navy seafarers (including 8 women) who were killed in WWII. The first Canadian service person killed in action was Ms. Hannah Baird who died while serving as a stewardess on the S.S. Athenia on 3 September 1939.
- “Canadian Merchant Ship Losses of the Second World War, 1939-1945” by Robert C. Fisher (Revised June 2001).
- Valour at Sea — Canada’s Merchant Navy,” Veterans Affairs Canada, 1998.
- “The Unknown Navy,” Robert G. Halford, Vanwell, 1995.
- “>DEMS at War,” Reid, Commoners, 1990.
- “The Arming of Canadian Merchant Ships in the Second World War,” Max Reid, Chesley House Publications, 2003.
- “Convoy,” Philip Kaplan & Jack Currie, Aurum Press, 1998.
- “A Great Fleet of Ships,” S.C. Heal, Vanwell, 1999.
Naval Gunners in Wartime Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS)
The story about the arming of Canadian merchant ships in WWII is intricately entwined with that of the British maritime system including the navy. Prior to Canada’s Declaration of War on 10 September 1939 Canadian/British merchant shipping was placed under the control of the navy.
The Royal Canadian Navy inherited several responsibilities, including the protection of the ship by its own crew. It was this task that DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships) came into being.
High value merchant ships had been fitted with naval guns at the outbreak of war; however, after the very heavy loss of British/Canadian shipping in 1940/41, and particularly after the fall of France, it was decided to provide merchant ships with dedicated armament and specialized gunnery training for both naval and merchant seamen.
Many ships were as heavily armed as a naval frigate. In 1943, a typical Park ship with a naval Leading Seaman or Petty Officer Gunlayer and six Seaman Gunners would be fitted with the following armament:
4 inch gun back at the stern
12 pounder gun (3 inch) forward at the bow
4 x 20mm Oerlikons
2 x twin .50 caliber machine guns
20 rail anti-aircraft rocker launcher (Pillar Box)
2 x parachute & cable devices (660 feet of wire)
2 x fast aerial mine devices (1000 feet of wire+bomb)
8 x smoke floats
2 x minesweeping paravanes
2 x .303 Ross or Lee-Enfield rifles
It is estimated that a total of about 2000 Canadian naval personnel served as DEMS. In 1943, specialty Canadian DEMS gunnery training was instituted. An assessment of the relatively large armament package carried on a Canadian merchant ship would make it obvious that the few naval DEMS could not man all the armament without help from the merchant seamen. The merchant seamen were trained in the DEMS Training Centres.
Able Seaman (1)
Able Seaman (2)
Able Seaman (3)
Able Seaman (4)
Able Seaman (5)
Able Seaman (6)
officer of the watch
12 pounder gun
12 pounder gun
4 inch gun
4 inch gun
4 inch gun
|Naval Rating (1)
Naval Rating (2)
Naval Rating (3)
Naval Rating (4)
Naval Rating (5)
Naval Rating (6)
Naval Rating (7)
12 pounder gun
4 inch gun
|Merchant Crew at Action Stations 23
|| Naval Crew at Action Stations 7
Information on crew and naval assignments from the publication: DEMS at War, Max Reid, 1990.
Merchant Ship Loaded With Military Cargo
World War II Merchant Ship S.S. Fort Halkett
[This diagram shows a cargo that was actually loaded at Swansea, Wales, in February 1943 for Bone, North Africa]
Fort Halkett Ship
HOLD # 5
HOLD # 4
HOLD # 3
HOLD # 2
HOLD # 1
1-30 CWT 4 wheeled winch
2-3 ton 4 wheeled GS lorries
5-3 ton wheeled GS lorries
2 Churchill tanks
3-3 ton 4 wheeled stores lorries
2-3 ton 4 wheeled GS lorries
4-4 seater cars
2-18 CWT GS lorries
6-8 CWT wireless
4 armoured carriers
war dept. explosives (smoke)
3 field artillery tractors
3-18 CWT water carriers
tank lubricating oil & grease
3-15 CWT compressor trucks
1-18 CWT wireless truck
1-15 CWT GS lorry
1 gas welding trailer/ MB fluid
1 LT reconnaissance trailer
3 universal carriers
sand fly curtains
12-25 pounder guns
cases of motor transport spares
8 Churchill tanks
4-3 ton 4 wheeled GS lorries
armoured fighting vehicle spares
poles, pickets & sleepers
1-3 CWT 4 wheeled winch lorry
2-3 ton 4 wheeled GS lorries
1 platform truck
2 scout cars
3-30 CWT GS lorries
3-3 ton 4 wheeled GS lorries
general bulk supplies
1-15 CWT wireless truck
2-8 CWT GS lorries
3 universal carriers
4 carriers TCP
1-3 ton 4 wheeled stores lorry
1-3 ton 4 wheeled breakdown lorry
WD explosives/RE spares
armoured fighting vehicle spares
cases general bulk supplies
3-3 ton technical lorries
1-3 ton 4 wheeled RAQC lorry
7 field artillery tractors
3 artillery tractors
cans & drums of oil & kerosene
21 artillery trailers
7 ROTA trailers
12 Churchill tanks
railway turnouts, lines & sleepers
2-3 ton 4 wheeled GS lorries
2-30 CWT 4 wheeled lorries
1-15 CWT office truck
cases of general bulk supplies
2 scout cars
Source: “Merchant Shipping and the Demands of War,” HMSO, London, 1978
The FORT HALKETT was a 10,000 ton “North Sands” type of ship that was built in Vancouver B.C. and carried the British flag
Six months after this voyage from Swansea to Bone the FORT HALKETT was lost on 6 August 1943 after being torpedoed by a submarine south-east of Pernambuco [Recife] Brazil.
The Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund
What is the RCNBF?
The Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund (RCNBF) is a Corporation created to relieve the distress and promote the well-being of individuals:
- who served in the Naval Forces of Canada, up until 31 January, 1968 and their dependants,
- who are Canadian Merchant Navy War Veterans as they are defined by Section 6,s.s.1 of The Merchant Navy Veteran and Civilian War-Related Benefits Act, R.S.C. 1992, c.24 and their dependants, and
- who are former members of the Canadian Forces who served in units of Maritime Command or had a Navy or Sea Element rank designation and their dependants.
The creation of a fund from which small grants and loans could be made was long a dream of officers and men of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Reserve Forces. The distances which often separate serving personnel from their families, the incidence of unexpected illness and accident and the other hazards of life made it evident that some form of assistance should be made available in times of emergency and distress.
It was not until 1942 that long discussed plans bore fruit, and on the 23rd of November of that year an Order in Council was passed which brought into being the “Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund.”
Prominent Naval Officers and Officials serving in Naval Service Headquarters were named Trustees and charged with the administration of moneys made available through contributions of Canteens and Officers’ Messes. The original capital of the Fund was made up of an undistributed balance of Prize Money from the war of 1914-18, plus gifts from interested friends of the Naval Service.
It is important to note that the Fund thus created is NOT a Government Agency. It is a Corporation without share capital, supported by voluntary donations from serving and ex-service personnel, civilian friends and Naval organizations.
The Fund can be contacted for information on eligibility, available assistance, how to apply, etc. on its web site.
Last Post Fund
Funeral and Burial Benefits
for Eligible War Veterans and
Peacetime Disability Pensioners
The Last Post Fund (LPF), founded in 1909 in Montreal, Quebec, is a non-profit corporation whose purposes are:
- to ensure, insofar as possible, that no war veterans or civilians who meet wartime service eligibility criteria are denied a dignified funeral and burial for lack of sufficient funds;
- to provide funeral and burial benefits to wartime and peacetime disability pensioners who die either from a pensioned condition or a condition that can be related to military service; and
- to provide grave headstones for war veteran graves that have been unmarked for more than five years.
The LPF operates in cooperation with, and is supported financially by Veterans Affairs Canada and by private donations.The LPF has its National Office in Montreal and Branch offices in every province except Prince Edward Island which is administered by the New Brunswick Branch. Follow this link to the Fund’s web site.
Veterans Review and Appeal Board
[This information is from the Board’s web site]
The Veterans Review and Appeal Board (Board) was created in 1995 by an Act of Parliament. The Board is an independent Board with full and exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeals from the decisions of the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The Board may affirm, vary or reverse the Minister’s decisions, or refer decisions back to the Minister for reconsideration. The Board is completely independent from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Board provides two levels of appeal on disability pension applications and the final level of appeal on allowance decisions. The Board’s objective is to ensure veterans, Canadian Forces personnel, Royal Canadian Mounted Police members, certain civilians, and/or their respective dependants receive the disability pensions and benefits to which they are entitled. In the period between April 2003 and March 2004, the Board heard 7043 claims.
The Board has full jurisdiction to hear, determine and deal with all applications for review and appeal that may be made to the Board under the Pension Act and the War Veterans Allowance Act and other Acts of Parliament.
Positions on the Board will be advertised in the Canada Gazette and on the Board’s web site at http://www.vrab-tacra.gc.ca. Company members may be interested in applying for these positions when they become available — the pay is fixed by Order in Council within the salary range $88,900 to $104,600, which has been in effect since April 1, 2004. Follow the following link for more information on these positions.
Poem of the Merchant Seamen