On Friday September 3 the Clarence Valley Naval and Mariners in conjunction with the Maclean Sub-Branch, will commemorate Merchant Navy Day. The Red Ensign affectionately called the ‘Red Duster’ will be flown at half-mast at the Maclean Cenotaph.
Merchant Navy Day is commemorated on September 3 each year in recognition of the transatlantic passenger liner, Athenia which was torpedoed and sunk just hours after England declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939.
The Australian War Memorial Commemorative Wall lists 845 names of Australian merchant sailors that died on war service during WW2. The actual number will never be known as many others served on British merchant ships, over 30,000 men lost their lives serving under the Red Ensign.
In Australian coastal waters between December 1941 and August 1943, 58 Japanese Submarines sank 180 ships and damaged 15 more, with 38 sunk in Australian waters, including in the Indian Ocean and South-West Pacific. By wars end 76 merchant ships were lost in Australian waters to mines, torpedoes or bombs; 29 were Australian registered. This included the hospital ship ‘Centaur’, which despite having large red crosses painted on her side was torpedoed with the loss of 288 men and women including medical staff and nurses.
The Merchant Navy during World War 1 and 2 and more recently Vietnam, transported troops to their landing and supplied them with food, ammunition, and reinforcement. All while being mostly unarmed and unprotected.
Quote by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill – “Sea Transport is the stem from which victory blooms, since without supplies no army is good for anything”.
General Douglas MacArthur wrote “They brought us our lifeblood and they paid for it with their own. I saw their ships bombed in New Guinea and Singapore ports. When their ships were not blown out from under them by bombs or torpedoes, they delivered their cargoes to us who needed them so badly. In war it is performance that counts.
Even in today’s environment, the merchant navy continues to supply our nation and export our goods in at times heavy treacherous seas and despite the possibility of, and unknown contraction of Covid in each port they visit.
As we are in lockdown the full service which was to be held at the Townsend Lawn Cemetery this Saturday 4 had to be cancelled.
They have no grave but the cruel sea, no flowers lay at their head.
A rusting hulk is their tombstone, afast on the ocean bed.
Lest we Forget.
The Naval and Mariners next meeting is at 1100, Saturday October 23. Membership is open to any ex or serving Australian Naval Forces, Australian Merchant Navy or their allies, or any person who has served in a professional capacity at sea – such as a member of State or Federal Government Department, Water Police, Maritime Services or Australian seafaring customs.