Tribute for 'forgotten' service

OLD TIMES: Vindi Boys, from left, John Oswick, Bill Wilson and Trevor Castleton at the plaque unveiling on Wellington's waterfront.
OLD TIMES: Vindi Boys, from left, John Oswick, Bill Wilson and Trevor Castleton at the plaque unveiling on Wellington's waterfront.

The "forgotten service" has been remembered in Wellington with the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to the merchant navy training ship Vindicatrix.

More than 70,000 cadets undertook 12-week training courses on the British ship between 1939 and 1966.

During World War II, merchant navy ships and seamen were requisitioned for supply convoys, escorted by navy ships through waters infested with U-boats.

Bill Wilson, the eldest local "Vindi Boy", unveiled the memorial plaque at yesterday's service on the Wellington waterfront. Though so many trained on the ship, its history had not been widely celebrated until the past few years, when several reunions had taken place.

"The stories are just now starting to come out - the merchant navy was not recognised [by the RSA] for a long time."

Wellington Returned and Services Association patron Ian Hunter acknowledged the sailors' contribution.

"The merchant navy is known as the fourth service and sometimes, sadly, the forgotten service."

Though merchant navy ships had little firepower and were not intended for combat, they faced real risks during wartime.

Mr Wilson trained on the Vindicatrix in 1942. "The U-boats used to wait for us - the navy escort could try to detect them, using depth charges," he said.

"It was tough - a lot of Vindi Boys lost their lives, and I'll always remember them."

The Vindicatrix was at Sharpness, western England, while in use as a training school and scrapped in Newport, Wales, in 1966.

During yesterday's ceremony the Cook Strait ferry Bluebridge swung by close to where the unveiling took place and sounded its horn in recognition.

The plaque, "To all the Vindi Boys", was funded by donations from two members of the Vindicatrix Association who did not want to be identified.

The Dominion Post