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Starlet toasts the Merchant Navy

The Story

Nothing gets a bunch of sailors more fired up than a pretty movie star. British actress Anna Neagle is in Montreal to appear on CBC Radio's Merchant Navy Show, and she's warmly received by the 1,200 men who pack Montreal's Sailor's Institute. To their delight, she comes ready with a poem about the bravery of the merchant mariners who daily defy German U-boats on the Atlantic. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Merchant Navy Show
Broadcast Date: Oct. 9, 1942
Guest: Anna Neagle
Duration: 4:52
Photo: National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada

Did You know?

• Dame Anna Neagle was one of Britain's greatest celebrities of the 1930s and 40s. Born in 1904 as Florence Marjorie Robertson, she started her career as a dancer on stage in London's West End. Moving on to cinema, she appeared in 38 films -- many of them musicals 151; from 1930 to 1959. Following the Second World War, she was voted England's favourite actress seven years running. Her roles included Queen Victoria, royal mistress Nell Gwyn, French spy Odette and nurse Florence Nightingale.

• After brief forays into acting in Hollywood and directing in Britain, Neagle retired from film and returned to the theatre. She made the Guinness Book of World Records for her 2,062 consecutive appearances in the play Charlie Girl between 1965 and 1971.
• In 1969 Anna Neagle was made Dame of the British Empire for her theatre work. She died in 1986.

• The Merchant Navy Show, hosted by Russ Titus, premiered in July 1942. The CBC described the series as, "a music and comedy review with Howard Higgins and his orchestra, the Seamen's Quartet, and popular cabaret stars." According to the CBC Programme Schedule, each weekly broadcast also included "a dramatized story of heroism at sea" and interviews with merchant mariners who'd been involved in "thrilling episodes" of one kind or another.

• Merchant mariners were civilian sailors who operated vital supply ships during the war. Merchant navy ships delivered troops, munitions, food and fuel around the world, keeping the Allied war effort alive. The government coordinated their routes and navy officers commanded their ships. Merchant mariners were all volunteers, receiving a marginally higher pay rate than navy sailors, but had little opportunity for advancement and received no benefits or pensions after the war.

• One in seven merchant mariners died at sea -- a higher casualty rate than any of the other armed forces. Some 67 Canadian merchant marine ships were sunk during the war, mostly by German U-boats in 1942. Of Canada's 12,000 mariners, approximately 1,146 were killed, along with 203 Newfoundlanders (who were not yet Canadians). Most have no known graves.
• It was not until 1992 that merchant mariners were granted official veteran status, pensions and benefits.



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