Members of the Merchant Navy Veterans' Association gathered in Halifax Wednesday for the last time to honour those who supplied Allied forces in Europe during the Second World War.

The group has been gathering annually since the government recognized Merchant Navy Veterans Day 11 years ago, but declining membership led the Halifax group to decide this would be the last year.

Students from Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, about 50 sailors and a handful of veterans marked the day at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Retired Captain Earl Wagner says the association has about 30 members who attend meetings, and with an average age of 91, many struggle to get out to the event.

End of an era

He's been organizing the event since it began and says it's hard to see the tradition end.

"What can you say it's hard to describe it, you know, emotional feelings." he said. "For me, it's the end of an era, sense of accomplishments too."

The Nova Scotia service was held at 11 a.m. at Sackville Landing.

Members of the Merchant Navy played a critical role in getting fuel, equipment, goods and personnel from North America to the European front of the war against Germany and its allies.

Veterans Affairs Canada says 12,000 men and women served in Canada’s Merchant Navy in the Second World War; 1,629 people died in service.

Merchant Marine service

Students from Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, about 50 sailors and a handful of veterans marked the day at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. (CBC)

One merchant ship could carry enough food to feed 225,000 people for a week. Cargo also included clothing, fuel, steel, aluminum, lumber, aircraft, tanks, jeeps, trucks, guns, munitions, and whatever else was required for the war effort.

Because of their vital role, merchant ships became prized targets for enemy surface raiders and U-boats.

Veterans Affairs says one of the main training schools for those about to enter the merchant marines was the St. Margaret’s Sea Training School for Ordinary Seamen and Cadet Officers in Hubbards.

Wagner says it's a lack of young people that is part of the decision to end.

"Couldn't get anybody," he said. "I've been trying for years, trying to get somebody...the younger generation ...to get them involved. Without anyone coming up the ranks to organize the ceremony this year will be the last."