Merchant navy veterans celebrate their last supper

At the rate Canadian merchant navy veterans are passing away, Bill Emberly says this year’s Christmas dinner could be the group’s last.

— Kevin Underhill

At the rate Canadian merchant navy veterans are passing away, Bill Emberly says this year’s Christmas dinner could be the group’s last.

Emberly, a merchant navy veteran from Vic West, distributes a newsletter for the group three times a year and said it is mostly filled with obituaries now.

“The average age is 89 to 90 years old and we lose about 20 veterans per year,” Emberly said.

Canada’s 12,000 men and women that served in the merchant navy in the Second World War delivered war supplies, food and military personnel from Canada to the war theatres in Europe. Emberly, who served from 1944 to 1945, said merchant seaman rarely get the recognition they deserve.

“We would travel at six knots across the North Atlantic on unarmed vessels,” he said. “Not only were we at risk of attack but we also had to deal with storms with 70 to 80 foot waves.”

David Zimmerman, a UVic history professor who studies the Royal Canadian Navy, said the dangers the merchant navy faced in the Second World War were very real.

“They ran a greater risk than the war ships because they couldn’t defend themselves,” Zimmerman said. “They were the primary target of German u-boats and aircraft.”

By the end of the Second World War, Canada had built more than 400 merchant ships. Zimmerman said the importance of the merchant naval fleet couldn’t be overstated.

“These sailors risked their lives carrying vital goods across to Europe,” he said. “And they certainly didn’t get recognition right after the war.”

Earlier this month, Emberly gathered with other merchant navy veterans and their wives for a turkey dinner. It was nice to catch up with old comrades and reconnect, he said.

Events like the dinner are becoming fewer and further apart as more and more war veterans are passing away each year. Emberly said the government, after ignoring merchant navy veterans for years, has only recently started to show support.

“We’re finally getting benefits now. In 1992, we were officially recognized as veterans,” Emberly said. “I finally got a pension in 2008.”

Zimmerman said the recognition of the merchant navy was a long time coming but things are finally getting better. After World War II, the fleet was disbanded and the merchant navy basically ceased to exist.

Knowing what those benefits are and how to access them is lost on some veterans, Emberly said, which is one reason he stays active in the veteran community.

“The reason I stay involved is to help people,” Emberly said. “Even to this day, there are a lot of people that don’t know they are entitled to benefits.”

For Emberly, events like the “last supper,” are really important to keep the feeling of belonging alive amongst remaining veterans.

“The camaraderie that these people have is unbelievable. I think it’s holding them together,” he said.

 

 

Just Posted

Volunteer needed to empty dog poop can in Saanich Park

Local volunteers do the work of irresponsible dog owners at Mount Doug

Most Victoria transit takers thank their driver: poll

Bus riders thank drivers on Transit Driver Appreciation Day

Sexual assault charge dropped against former CFB Esquimalt member

Navy Lt. Ronald Clancy was charged with two counts of sexual assault in August 2018

Vancouver Island overdue for the big one, can also expect mega-thrust tsunami

The last big earthquake was 70 years ago in Courtenay

Sentence handed down for sex assaults committed more than 30 years ago

Man in his 80s will serve a conditional sentence in the community

VIDEO: RCMP ask kids to help name soon-to-be police dogs

13 German shepherd puppies will be born this year

Horvat scores 16 seconds into OT as Canucks beat Blackhawks 3-2

Pettersson sets rookie scoring record for Vancouver

No injuries, pollution in Vancouver Harbour ship collision: Transport Canada

Transportation Safety Board says it has deployed a team of investigators look into the incident

Budget 2019: Five things to watch for in the Liberals’ final fiscal blueprint

Finance Minister Bill Morneau will release the Trudeau government’s final budget on Tuesday

New concussion guidelines launched for Canada’s Olympians, Paralympians

The guidelines will be in effect at this summer’s Pan American, Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru

Alphonso Davies doubtful for Canada game against French Guiana in Vancouver

Canada will be without injured captain Scott Arfield and veteran Will Johnson

Watchdog called after man who yelled racial slurs at B.C. vigil hurt during arrest

BC RCMP say man was ‘acting suspiciously’ at prayer vigil for victims of New Zealand mosque shootings

NDP’s Jagmeet Singh steps into the House of Commons, making history

Burnaby South MP becomes first visible minority to lead a federal party in the House of Commons

Most Read