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Mercantile Marine War Medal

The Mercantile Marine War Medal was established in 1919 and awarded by the Board of Trade of the United Kingdom to mariners of the Merchant Navy for one or more voyages through a war or danger zone during the course of the First World War.


During the period from 5 August 1914, the day following the British declaration of war against the German Empire, and the armistice of 11 November 1918, altogether 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.

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 signed by King George V. 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.

Award criteria

One or more voyages through a danger zone during the war qualified a mariner for the award of the medal. Men who served in coastal trades, such as pilots, fishermen, lightship crews and the like, also qualified for the award of the medal. It was also awarded to those who had served at sea for not less than six months between 4 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. Altogether 133,135 Mercantile Marine War Medals were awarded, of which 624 were awarded to Canadians. Recipients also qualified for the award of the British War Medal.

Men who transferred in or out of the Mercantile Marine from or to the fighting services also qualified 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.

Order of wear

Campaign medals and stars are not listed by name in the order of wear prescribed by the British Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, but are all grouped together as taking precedence after the Queen's Medal for Chiefs and before the Polar Medals, in order of the date of the campaign for which awarded.

The order of precedence of the First World War campaign stars and medals is as follows:

  • The 1914 Star.
  • The 1914–15 Star.
  • The British War Medal.
  • The Victory Medal (United Kingdom).
  • The Territorial War Medal.
  • The Mercantile Marine War Medal.

In the British order of wear, the Mercantile Marine War Medal takes precedence before the Naval General Service Medal (1915).

South Africa



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 is impressed on the rim in sans-serif capital letters and the first given name is often in full.


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).


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.


The ribbon is 32 millimetres 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.

Memorial plaque

The Memorial Plaque is a medallion designed by Edward Carter Preston, struck in bronze and 4 3⁄4 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.

Condolence slip

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".

Memorial Scroll

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)."