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Merchant Navy Families in Wartime

Time period: 1940-1945



Realisation project:

Zigma ©, Goert Giltay (Cineast), Drs. Tineke de Danschutter (research, interviews)


Timeframe: 1920-2010
Location: Nederland
Number of interviews: 9


Thematic collection: Erfgoed van de Oorlog



Interviews can be seen via:


At the outbreak of the Second World War, countless Dutch merchant ships were in international waters or in ports of the allied powers. Under the Sailing Duty, merchant crews were put at the disposal of the allied forces, thus becoming a kind of frontline soldiers from one day to the next. Until the end of compulsory shipping, merchant mariners contributed to Allied warfare by shipping troops, weapons, oil and other raw materials under the most dangerous conditions. Many Dutch ships were sunk, particularly by the German U-Boats. A total of 7,000 sailors lost their lives during the war.


Not only were the Dutch sailors constantly exposed to the threat of German and Japanese torpedoes and bombers. They were also in a constant state of uncertainty about the fate of their families, who in turn heard almost nothing about their husbands, fathers and brothers who were involved in risky military invasions. How did the families who stayed behind in the Netherlands fare during the war years? In order to preserve their war memories for posterity, interviews were conducted with relatives of sailors who were off shore during the war years. The interviewees not only reveal something of their fears and uncertainties. They also reveal how they coped with the financial downturn at the time. After all, the German occupier had stopped paying salaries because the sailors were in Allied service. From then on, the seamen’s families had to rely on a salary from the shipping company which, in the beginning, was the same as the benefit paid by the Maatschappelijk Hulpbetoon, but which later became even lower.