Robert Hughes knows first-hand what the Canadian Merchant Navy went through in the Second World War.
A navy seaman when Canada entered the fray, he was soon transferred to the merchant navy where he spent the remainder of the war protecting commercial ships around the globe as they delivered goods and people from continent to continent, German submarines threatening their every move.
Without the merchant navy and its sailors, the result of the war might have been a lot less favourable to the Allies, which is why he thinks it’s important generations that came afterward take a few minutes to reflect on the sacrifices made.
On Tuesday Hughes, one of Thunder Bay’s few surviving veterans from the war, helped raise a flag at city hall, commemorating the merchant navy’s contributions to the country’s combat effort.
It’s important to remember, he said.
“The merchant navy was sort of in the background, although they did a heck of a lot of work and they were absolutely necessary throughout the war,” he said.
“It means a lot to me.”
Hughes said the ships went anywhere they were needed and carried anything that was required.
“The guys that ran them did everything that was necessary to get them here and there,” he said.
“I was quite proud of being a member of the merchant navy during the war. And still am. I’m still a member.”
Coun. Larry Hebert, the acting mayor for September, helped send the flag skyward and said keeping the merchant navy front and centre in people’s thought helps keep their memory alive.
“A lot of people forget their role. They were a non-military group and since 2002 in Canada this has been declared merchant marine day and we should honour them for the war effort they put on. Seventy-two of those boats were blown into the Atlantic by German submarines and really they were all volunteers,” Hebert said.
“They really sacrificed and helped save the war. They brought all the supplies over to Britain and to Europe and also picked up supplies in the Caribbean. It’s really worth celebrating this day and the effort the merchant marine put in.”
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