Merchant Navy Day ceremony

2 September 2011

Merchant Navy Day will be marked with a wreath-laying ceremony at the National War Memorial on Saturday 3 September. The ceremony will be attended by Members of Parliament, members of the Diplomatic Corps, veterans of the Merchant Navy, and the Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Tony Parr, representing the New Zealand Defence Force.

What: Wreath-laying ceremony to mark Merchant Navy Day

Where: National War Memorial, Buckle Street, Wellington

When: 10.30am, Saturday 3 September.

Please note: Veterans of the Merchant Navy will be available for interview after the ceremony.


For further information please contact Ally Clelland, Defence Communications Group, 021 569 130

Merchant Navy background

During WWII the merchant fleets were the lifeblood of the Allied war effort. They operated in every theatre of the war, carrying troops and supplying military forces with food, weapons and ammunition. This was an aspect of war that was hard, monotonous and dangerous. The ships not only faced attack by aircraft, warships or U-boats, but also the usual hazards of voyaging at sea. 

New Zealand’s merchant fleet participated in many of the great military operations of the war. New Zealanders also sailed in merchant ships belonging to Britain, the United States and other countries. Some took part in the Arctic convoys, among the most hazardous voyages undertaken of the war. Others served in the Malta convoys, carrying supplies to the besieged island under heavy attack from German and Italian aircraft and naval forces.

One of the best-known New Zealand ships was the Union Steam Ship Company’s Awatea, which made many risky voyages evacuating civilians and transporting troops. In 1942, after landing commandos on the North African coast, she was attacked by enemy aircraft and had to be abandoned. The same year, the New Zealand freighter Hauraki was captured by Japanese warships in the Indian Ocean – five of its crew died in captivity.

There were also losses nearer to home. In 1940 the British freighter Turakina was sunk by the German raider Orion in the Tasman Sea, with the loss of 36 lives. In 1943 Japanese submarines sank two New Zealand merchant ships in the Tasman.

The men of the Merchant Navy are the only civilians to be honoured at the National War Memorial. At least 120 New Zealanders died while serving in Allied merchant fleets and around 130 were captured or interned.

This page was last reviewed on 4 September 2011.