The Merchant Navy

Page 1 – Introduction

We just drifted away from the ship and lay there and watched as she slowly went down ... She slowly filled up from the stern and the last I saw of her, from the bridge up she was vertical and she just slowly went down. In those days at least, the ship was your home, and I'll never forget the feeling when I saw my home disappear under the waves.

Lionel Hodgson, Engineer, SS Remuera

Several thousand New Zealanders served in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War. These civilian volunteers sailed the ships that delivered troops, military equipment and vital cargoes of food, fuel and raw materials across the world's oceans. This work was so essential to the Allies' war effort that the Merchant Navy was effectively regarded as the fourth service alongside the army, navy and air force.

Work on the ships was tough – but also full of adventure. Merchant seafarers often found themselves in the front lines of the war at sea. Many ships were torpedoed or bombed; survivors sometimes spent days or weeks in lifeboats before being rescued. More than 140 New Zealand merchant seafarers lost their lives, and a similar number were taken prisoner. No other group of New Zealand civilians faced such risks during wartime.

How to cite this page

'The Merchant Navy in the Second World War', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 16-Jan-2015