Mercantile Marine War Medal

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Mercantile Marine War Medal
Mercantile Marine War Medal Reverse.png
TypeCampaign medal
Awarded forCampaign service
DescriptionBronze circular medal
CountryFlag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Presented bythe Monarch of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India
EligibilityMerchant Marine mariners
Campaign(s)First World War
Ribbon - Mercantile Marine War Medal.png
Ribbon bar
Order of wear
Next (higher)British War Medal
Next (lower)Naval General Service Medal (1915)
Authority to wear the British War Medal and the Mercantile Marine Medal issued to Minnie Mason for service on English Channel ferries in World War I

The Mercantile Marine War Medal was established in 1919 and awarded by the Board of Trade of the United Kingdom to mariners of the British Mercantile Marine (later renamed the Merchant Navy)[1] for service at sea during the First World War.[2][3][4]


Between 5 August 1914, the day following the British declaration of war against the German Empire, and the armistice of 11 November 1918, 2,479 British merchant vessels and 675 British fishing vessels were lost as a result of enemy action, with respectively 14,287 and 434 lives lost. The Mercantile Marine War Medal was instituted by the Board of Trade and approved by the King to reward the war service of the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine who, while only trained as peacetime mariners, continued to serve while running the risk of being attacked at sea during the war.[2][4]

Award criteria[edit]

One or more voyages through a danger zone during the war qualified a mariner for the award of the medal, as did service at sea for not less than six months between 4 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. Men who served in coastal trades, such as pilots, fishermen and lightship and post office cable ship crews could also qualify.[2][4][5] There was no minimum qualifying period for those killed or wounded by enemy action, or taken prisoner.[6]

All recipients also received the British War Medal.[6]

Members of the Royal Navy seconded to the Mercantile Marine to man defensive weapons on merchant ships could qualify for the Mercantile Marine War Medal in addition to other campaign medals.[7] Men who transferred in or out of the Mercantile Marine from or to the fighting services could also qualify for the award of the Victory Medal and, if appropriate, the 1914 Star or 1914–15 Star, while still being eligible for the Mercantile Marine War Medal. Service solely in the Mercantile Marine, however, did not count for the award of the Victory Medal or either of the two Stars.[2]

Altogether 133,135 Mercantile Marine War Medals were awarded, of which 624 were awarded to Canadians.[8]



The Mercantile Marine War Medal is a disk, struck in bronze and 36 millimetres in diameter. The straight clasp non-swivelling suspender is attached to the medal with a single-toe claw mount and a pin through the upper edge of the medal. The recipient's name only is impressed on the rim in sans-serif capital letters and the first given name is usually in full.[2][4][8]


The obverse is identical to that of the British War Medal and shows Sir Bertram Mackennal's bareheaded effigy of King George V facing left, with the legend "GEORGIVS V BRITT: OMN: REX ET IND: IMP:" (George V, King of all the British Isles and Emperor of India).[2][4][5]


The reverse, designed by Harold Stabler, shows a merchant steamship ploughing through heavy seas, with an enemy submarine sinking on portside and a sailing ship in the background. The exergue is inscribed, in three lines, "FOR•WAR•SERVICE", "MERCANTILE•MARINE" and "•1914–1918•". Around the rim enclosing the whole image is a laurel wreath.[2][4][8][5]


The ribbon is 32 millimetres (1.25 inches) wide, with a 13½ millimetres wide green band, a 5 millimetres wide white band and a 13½ millimetres wide red band, representing a ship's starboard and port running lights with the masthead steaming light in the centre.[2][4][8][5]

Memorial plaque[edit]

Along with the medal, the next-of-kin of those men and women who lost their lives as a result of enemy action, were presented with a memorial plaque and memorial scroll, both inscribed with the deceased's full name, and a condolence slip.

Memorial plaque for Ernest Horner

The Memorial Plaque is a medallion designed by Edward Carter Preston, struck in bronze and 4+34 inches (120 millimetres) in diameter, which shows Britannia with two dolphins behind her and a male lion in the foreground. Around the perimeter the medallion is inscribed "HE*DIED*FOR*FREEDOM*" at left and "*AND*HONOVR" at right. The deceased's full name is in relief in a rectangular frame above the lion's head. The exergue depicts the defeat of the Prussian eagle by the British lion. More than a million plaques were produced to commemorate the sacrifice of military and mercantile marine men and women who fell between 4 August 1914 and 30 April 1920.[2][9]

Condolence slip[edit]

The text of the condolence slip which accompanied the plaque reads: "Buckingham Palace. I send you this Memorial on behalf of my people and myself. We all desire that the brave and loyal service of the Mercantile Marine in war-time shall be gratefully recorded, and that the names of those who gave their lives for us shall be handed down with honour from one generation to another. (Signed) George RI".[2]

Memorial scroll[edit]

The memorial scroll text reads: "This scroll is written to honour that great company of our men who though trained only to the peaceful traffic of the sea yet in the hour of national danger gave themselves with the ancient skill and endurance of their breed to face new perils and new cruelties of war and in a right cause served fearlessly to the end. And this is written further to ensure that among the rest shall be ever freshly remembered the name and service of... (full name)."[2]

Order of wear[edit]

The order of wear of the First World War campaign stars and medals is as follows:[10]

South Africa[edit]

On 6 April 1952 the Union of South Africa instituted its own range of military decorations and medals. These new awards were worn before all earlier British decorations and medals awarded to South Africans, with the exception of the Victoria Cross, which still took precedence before all other awards. Of the First World War campaign medals applicable to South Africans, the Mercantile Marine War Medal takes precedence as shown.[11][12]

British War Medal Mercantile Marine War Medal Victory Medal (South Africa)


  1. ^ First formal use of title 'Merchant Navy' came with the appointment of the Prince of Wales as Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets in 1928
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k The Mercantile Marine War Medal – 1914–1918 (Access date 30 March 2015)
  3. ^ Mackay, J and Mussel, J (eds) – Medals Yearbook – 2007, Token Publishing. p175.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g The Great War 1914–1918 – A Guide to British Campaign Medals of WW1
  5. ^ a b c d New Zealand Defence Force – British Commonwealth war and campaign medals awarded to New Zealanders – The Mercantile Marine War Medal (Access date 31 March 2015)
  6. ^ a b Dorling, H. Taprell (1956). Ribbons and Medals. London: A.H.Baldwin & Sons. pp. 89–90. OCLC 930416375.
  7. ^ Hayward; Birch; Bishop (2006). British Battles and Medals (7th ed.). London: Spink. p. 508. ISBN 1-902040-77-5.
  8. ^ a b c d Veterans Affairs Canada – Mercantile Marine War Medal (Access date 31 March 2015)
  9. ^ The Great War Memorial Plaque – The Memorial Plaque (Access date 30 March 2015)
  10. ^ a b "No. 38663". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 July 1949. p. 3404.
  11. ^ Government Notice no. 1982 of 1 October 1954 – Order of Precedence of Orders, Decorations and Medals, published in the Government Gazette of 1 October 1954.
  12. ^ Republic of South Africa Government Gazette Vol. 477, no. 27376, Pretoria, 11 March 2005, OCLC 72827981