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Veterans Affairs

Media Release – Minister Keogh – Commemorating Merchant Navy Day

Department of Veterans' Affairs 2 mins read







3 September 2023

commemorating merchANT navy DAY

Australia’s wartime history is filled with stories of ordinary Australians who served our nation in extraordinary ways.

Today we reflect on the crucial role that Australian and Allied merchant mariners played in wartime, facing various dangers while carrying out their duties under the most trying of circumstances.

While some merchant ships were equipped with limited defensive capabilities during the Second World War, most vessels remained unarmed, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from enemy surface ships, aircraft, submarines and mines.

In some cases, merchant ships were also converted into hospital ships to provide crucial medical services during wartime.

Merchant Navy Day marks the anniversary of the first attack on an Allied merchant ship during the Second World War. More than 110 crew and passengers on-board British liner SS Athenia lost their lives.

While the exact number of Australians who served or died during wartime service in the merchant navy remains unknown, it is estimated that around 1,000 Australian merchant mariners lost their lives during the two World Wars. 

Today, we honour their dedication and sacrifice and that of their fellow mariners for their service in World Wars, and the Vietnam War.

September 3, as well as being Merchant Navy Day, also marks Australia National Flag Day. I encourage those commemorating Merchant Navy Day to fly the Australian Red Ensign on this day.

To learn more about Merchant Navy Day, visit the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Anzac Portal.



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