Merchant Navy Gunner’s Vest
From the collection of the Maritime Museum Rotterdam
h 79 cm x w 58 cm
Roeland Jan Kroesen was just one of thousands of men sailing with the Dutch Merchant Navy when the Second World War broke out. Life changed drastically: ships that weren't in occupied waters at the outbreak of the war and capable of helping the Allied effort were required to do so. This was the result of a vaarplicht (injunction to continue sailing) issued by Dutch royal decree on 6 June 1940.
It was the beginning of a long and hazardous military service that killed thousands of Dutch merchant seamen. Ships were fitted with cannons and guns. The men also received suitable attire: such as this gunner’s vest. The danger at sea came from above as well as below. German aircraft and submarines hunted down Merchant Navy ships. When the Holland America Line’s S/S Pennland was shelled off the coast of Crete on 25 April 1941 and sunk within a few hours, Roeland Jan Kroesen was wearing this vest. Kroesen survived the bombing and served on other ships for the rest of the war. The vaarplicht was lifted in 1946.