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Remembering Canadian Merchant Seamen Lost at Sea

Aim

To help students remember the contributions and sacrifices of Canadian Merchant Navy mariners who participated in the Battle of the Atlantic, by doing research on Merchant Navy ships lost at sea.

Objectives

Youth will be expected to:

  • learn about Merchant Navy ships lost at sea during the Second World War;
  • conduct research using two Veterans Affairs Canada databases;
  • create a remembrance profile on Canadian Merchant Navy mariners who died at sea.

Target Audience

This activity is suitable for students in grades 7 to 12 (12 to 18 years of age).

Class Materials

Sequence of Activities and Anticipated Time Frame (75 minutes)

[This activity can be modified to fit available class time.]

  • Introduction (5 minutes)
  • Research (60 minutes)
  • Closing (10 minutes)

Introduction (5 minutes)

Distribute the article Fourth Dimension - May 8, 1942, about the sinking of two merchant ships off the Gaspé coast. Once the students have read it, discuss the dangers faced by crew members while sailing the Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War. Discuss the possible impact of such an event on the local population. You can also talk about the fact that crews on these two ships were 'lucky' in their misfortune; their ship having been torpedoed close to the coast, rescuers were able to reach to them. In most other cases, however, ships were sunk in the middle of the ocean where the chances of surviving the sinking of a ship were very slim.

Explain to the students that they will be conducting research, using databases on Merchant Navy ships that were lost at sea during the Second World War, in an effort to identify and remember some of those who died in service.

Research (60 minutes)

Distribute the Selected list of 23 Merchant Navy ships lost at sea during the Second World War. Explain to your students that hundreds of Merchant Navy ships were lost during the war. However, for the purpose of this activity, only a partial list of 23 vessels is provided. Every ship listed suffered more than ten Canadian fatal casualties. More than 370 merchant ships saw at least one Canadian losing his or her life during the conflict.

Divide the class in groups if so desired, and assign one ship per individual or group.

Using a search engine on the Internet, students may find additional information on their ship. Be mindful that more than one ship might have carried the same name. Therefore, it's always helpful to cross reference the findings with the date the ship was lost at sea.

Wikipedia, an online free encyclopedia, provides a list of shipwrecks during the war by date. It could be used to obtain additional information, such as the reason why the ship was lost or where it was sunk. Use the ship Montrolite (sunk February 5, 1942) as an example.

Once the students have found information about their ship, they may look for information concerning the Canadian merchant seamen who died while serving on board.

  1. Have students go to the Canadian Merchant Navy War Dead Registry.
  2. Do a 'Search by Vessel Name'.

    Insert the ship's name in the 'Enter the name of the vessel' field. Tell the students to be careful when entering the name, as one typo may prevent them from finding the list of Canadian casualties. Use only the short form of the ship's name. For example, if searching for MV Montrolite (Montréal), simply insert 'Montrolite' and click 'Search'.
  3. The students should see a link named Montrolite and click it. It will take them to a list of casualties.

    The list shows all the Canadians who died on that ship along with the date of death. In cases when all merchant seamen died on the same day, it is usually because the ship sank, either due to an accident or enemy action.
  4. Clicking on a name will lead students to a memorial page with additional information on a casualty.

    To obtain more information on the deceased merchant navy seamen, have students carefully write the name and then;
  5. Go to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website and type in the name in the search field. They should use only the SURNAME (sailor's last name) to do their search. A given name should only be used if they need to narrow their search.
  6. Once students have found the page listing their Canadian Merchant Navy seamen, their profiles should include the following information:
    • Person's name
    • Person's rank
    • Date of death
    • Age
    • Force
    • Unit
    • Division
    • Burial information
    If an Internet search on the lost ship was successful, they can add a picture and additional information on the ship to the sailor's profile.
  7. Have students compile the information and create their remembrance profile using the software of their choice. Ask students to present their Canadian Merchant Navy seamen lost at sea findings to the class.

    Display all the remembrance profiles in the classroom, in the hallway of your school or on your school Web site. You may want to invite local Veterans or Canadian Armed Forces members for the presentations.

    The Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM) is a database that continually grows with submissions from the general public. Any additional information (pictures, newspaper clippings or other pertinent information) found by the students pertaining to their fallen Merchant Navy seamen could be submitted to the CVWM.

Closing (10 minutes)

During this learning activity, students have focused their attention on one individual. They have also learned about a few other Merchant Navy seamen who died during the Second World War. You may want to take this opportunity to remind them that more than 1,600 Canadian Merchant Navy seamen died during that conflict. As well, many more died in the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force while protecting merchant ships.

You may want to share with your students some Heroes Remember interviews with Canadians who served in the Merchant Navy.

The vast majority of the sailors who died at sea have no known grave. The Halifax Memorial in Nova Scotia is one of the few tangible reminders of these lost men and women. If a visit to this memorial is not possible, you may conduct a virtual tour by exploring this website:

You can also search online for Point Pleasant Park and Halifax Memorial.

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