Monday, 16 May 2016

Canadian Merchant Navy WWII

My gramma had a beautiful Chinese table that my sister and I loved to play tea parties at. But only if we were very very careful. It was similar to the picture shown, although black in colour, round with small stools that were fitted cleverly into the circle.
original image from
also from Live

As I grew older I asked where and how did it get to my gramma's house? I was told that my uncle brought it back from China during the Second World War because he was in the Merchant Navy. Much later I found a handwritten letter from my uncle to my gramma written on a ship from somewhere in China. 

Of course this led me down another genealogy journey. 

Library and Archives Canada had the answer.

1st letter rec'd

As I couldn't see anywhere to apply online, I wrote an old fashioned letter to Veterans Affairs Canada and received the following in reply.

"This is a letter to your request received on January 6, 2016 for Merchant Navy records. 
Before a search through Veterans Affairs Canada files can be performed, additional information such as the Veteran's name, service number and or a date of birth is required.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me at our toll free number or directly at 902-626-2861."
(Even though they could see my UK address, they did not provide international dialing information - which is 001-902-636-2861.)

I wrote yet another letter with the details they requested, and included his mother and father's name and where he lived for good measure. I did not have his service number. 

Letter No. 2

I was quite thrilled to receive a reply about 3 weeks later and was very surprised that they did not request payment of any kind - therefore it was a free service but perhaps because I was able to prove I was next of kin?

From the letter:
"On the record of sea service I have highlighted the vessels by colour code. The yellow highlight, the records have been researched. The pink highlight, the records were not researched, as we do not have the records available. Our records only go up to approximately 1953, however sometimes the records continue to a later date. Only service that is verified is entered on the sea service."

"Due to Access to Information & Privacy, I am only able to send what is in the package. There are several names listed on the official log books of the ships along with your uncles. The information on the Sea Service is taken directly from those logs." 

Attachments to Letter No. 2
(Names withheld upon request.)
So here is the Statement of Sea Service. From the 'Destination of Voyage' you can see the Waitomo was a Foreign Going ship. This is the ship that he went to China on and his position was Ordinary Seaman. Which means he was a junior deck hand, possibly gaining experience for an Able Seaman role. They were responsible for helping to run the ship in any capacity while at sea and in port. 

This information does not verify the family story that my uncle was in WW2. The first date showing duty on a ship is 1946. From his date of birth, 1930, it certainly is clear that he was too young to have been in the Second World War. 

Certainly is proof that family stories can be stretched a little. I am fortunate there are still members of the family available to ask for clarification of some of these stories.
© Tony Conroy
Possibly the Waitomo, image provided by [accessed: 15.May.2016] via Google Images.

Wartime records for the Merchant Navy, 1939-1947 and 1951-1953, are held by:
Access to Information and Privacy
Veterans Affairs Canada 
PO Box 7700
Charlottetown, PEI
C1A 8M9
Tel.: 1-877-566-8609 this is a toll free number from within Canada
Tel.: 00-800-996-2242 (toll-free)
Tel.: 001-613-996-2242 (collect)
Fax: 902-368-0496 

Other sites of interest
This is quite a long article, but contains quite good information on Canadian military records

The page provides some background information on the Canadian Merchant Navy 

A tribute to Merchant Seamen of the Second World War 

Merchant Mariners - an article provided by the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage site, published by Memorial University

Royal Canadian Legion's article about the Merchant Navy in the Second World War.

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