On the first Sunday in May every year, Bill Emberly stands sombrely beneath the cenotaph on the grounds of the B.C. legislature to remember the lesser known navy of the Second World War.
The former merchant seaman has made it his lifelong mission to educate younger generations about the tragedies and heroic acts in the Battle of the Atlantic, a six-year supply mission that helped ensure victory for the Allied forces in Europe. It took three weeks for ship convoys to transport goods and personnel from Canada to Britain under constant threat from German U-boats.
“We were called the lifeline of the world. If we didn’t keep that lifeline going, we’d all be speaking German today,” said Emberly, one of about 70 remaining members of Vancouver Island branch, Canadian Merchant Navy veterans.
On Sunday, the veterans will once again converge at the corner of Belleville and Government streets to remember their friends and colleagues.
“It wasn’t just the merchant fleet in the Battle of the Atlantic, the navy had escorts and the bomber command who flew out from England and from Canada,” Emberly said.
In 2000, former veterans affairs minister George Baker made merchant navy veterans eligible to receive benefits and pensions. The federal government formally recognized Sept. 3 as Merchant Navy Veterans Day in 2003.
Canadian Navy, naval cadets and a naval band will attend Sunday’s public ceremony, which begins at 10:45 a.m.