THUNDER BAY -- Conservative estimates say about 1,600 Canadian men and women gave their lives in the Second World War serving the country’s merchant navy.
That’s about one-in-eight of the 12,000 who served, according to Legion magazine.
On Wednesday Thunder Bay’s contingent was honoured a city hall with the annual raising of the Red Duster, the merchant marine flag that the country’s ship sailed under during the six-year global conflict.
Gene Onchulenko, the acting secretary with the local Canadian Merchant Marine Association chapter, said it’s important to remember those who died.
“The merchant navy was a vital service, providing goods and services to England to help them survive the Second World War, the bombardment,” Onchulenko said.
“Food stuffs, lumber, fuel, all kinds of things needed for the war effort were brought by these merchant ships over to England and other Allied (countries).”
Without the merchant navy, the Allies war effort would have been seriously hampered.
Ships were routinely fired upon, as the Germans sought to cut the supply lines and starve the English out.
According to Legion magazine, only half of all sailors on ships that were struck survived.
But they continued to serve, knowing the dangers and knowing their lives were on the line each trek across the Atlantic or whatever waters they were needed.
Mayor Keith Hobbs, who helped raise the flag, had two parents who served in the war, but said the merchant navy had one of the toughest tasks of all.
“They were sitting ducks a lot of times,” said Hobbs, whose middle name is Peter in honour of an uncle who died in the conflict.
“My parents were veterans and they told me some horrific stories of what happened during the war, all for our freedom. You see what’s going on in the Middle East right now and we have to pay tribute to our vets all the time and never forget them.”
Flags at city hall are being flown at half staff this week, in remembrance of former parks and recreation manager Bill Beavis.
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