Merchant Navy Day has been a long time coming for two old sailors who first went to sea under the Red Ensign as teenagers.
Robert Wyld and John Gregson served in the Merchant Navy during World War II, ferrying much-needed supplies from New Zealand and Australia to a besieged Great Britain.
Their efforts, and the efforts of many who died at sea during the war, were remembered yesterday at a commemorative service in Tauranga. Celebrated for only the third time in New Zealand, Merchant Navy Day remembers the men and women who served the war effort as civilians at sea.
Joining the Merchant Navy in England at just 14 years of age, Robert Wyld first sailed to New Zealand when war broke two years later.
"We ran all the way from England to New Zealand with no escorts. We were picking up food from New Zealand to take back to England."
At one stage Mr Wyld was given the opportunity to take a month's holiday while the ship he was stationed to (the Ferndale) was being repaired in port, but he chose to sail immediately with another ship. The Ferndale was torpedoed and sunk soon after on its first voyage following repairs.
"Lucky Wyld, they called me."
He went on to become Captain Wyld years later, but he always remembered the terror of sailing a merchant ship during the war.
"We were frightened every day and anyone that tells you any different is a liar. We went to bed in our clothes and waited for our ship to be sunk."
Nearly 90 years of age now, Mr Wyld moved from England to live in Tauranga 10 years ago.
Mount Maunganui man John Gregson also joined the Merchant Navy as a teenager.
"I went to sea when I was 16. I started my apprenticeship with a Liverpool company called Blue Funnel," he said.
"I saw many ships sunk. Sometimes in the middle of the night you'd see a flash or hear an explosion and you'd know another ship was sunk."
During the war, 32,000 Merchant Navy personnel were killed - 130 of them from New Zealand. A total of 2479 merchant ships and 670 fishing boats were sunk. September 3 was chosen as Merchant Navy Day as this was the day Britain declared war on Germany and the passenger liner SS Athena was torpedoed and sunk a few hours later.
Organised by Captain Ken Camp of the United Seafarers Mission Tauranga, yesterday's service included a Bible reading by Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby, a poem read by Tauranga MP Simon Bridges and remembrance words from Lieutenant Colonel Tim Woodman of the British High Commission in Wellington.