How to look for records of... Merchant seamen’s medals and honours

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Visit us in Kew

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

Pay for research

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide to find out how and where to locate medal entitlements and honours for merchant seamen up to 1945.

2. Essential information

Many records of merchant seamen medals entitlement are available to view online.

Published sources may provide information of medal or award entitlement.

Types of award ranged from formal thanks to gifts (such as a gold chronometer) to campaign or gallantry medals.

3. Second World War

View the following online:

You can carry out an advanced search of our catalogue for the award of the Albert Medal for heroism on land by using key words such as ‘awards’, searching within the record series HO 45 and entering an appropriate date range.

Browse Discovery, our catalogue for:

  • the awards for acts of gallantry at sea in BT 261

Consult ADM 1, code 85 (index in ADM 12) and ADM 199 for further material gallantry medals and awards.

For more information on how to use these records read Naval correspondence using the ADM 12 indexes and digests. For other sources of merchant seamen awards read our guide on Merchant seamen serving after 1917.

4. First World War

View the following online:

Browse our catalogue for:

  • the awards for acts of gallantry at sea in BT 261

For correspondence relating to gallantry awards consult ADM 116, (you can search within this record series for 85 which was the ‘code’ for Honours and Awards), (index in ADM 12) and ADM 137 for further material.

For more information on how to use these records read Naval correspondence using the ADM 12 indexes and digests.

5. Pre-First World War

Various merchant seamen medal entitlements in ADM 171 are online. These include:

Browse Discovery, our catalogue for:

  • the Albert Medal register in BT 97 (1866-1913)
  • the awards for acts of gallantry at sea in BT 261

6. Applying for Second World War campaign medals

For the issue of Second World War campaign medals contact: Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

For the issue of medals you will need to provide evidence.

Get a copy of the seaman’s sea service record which will provide you with evidence of service. Also consult the relevant ship’s movement card (BT 389). This may prove the vessel was in the theatre of war on that date.

Access to full details of seamen born less than 100 years ago may be restricted.

7. Arctic Star Medal

In December 2012 the Prime Minister announced that veterans of the Second World War Arctic Convoys were to be awarded an Arctic Star Medal.

Look on the GOV.UK website at the Veterans UK pages to find out:

  • who qualifies for the award
  • what evidence you need to provide
  • how to make an application

The National Archives does have records that can show which ships an individual served on and what convoys and operations those ships were involved in, but you might need to visit us or use a paid search service to find which specific documents have the information you need.

You will need proof that an individual was on a particular ship and also that the ship took part in an operation or convoy north of the Arctic Circle. Please follow the steps below to find the documents you need.

Firstly, check the documents you already have to see if you can find the Continuous Discharge Book issued to the seaman – this will show what ships he served on.

If you don’t have the Continuous Discharge Book, you can use the Merchant Navy registers of service in records series BT 382 which list all the ships a person served on. However, finding information on individuals is not a straightforward process and cannot be done online.

To find records from BT 382 you will need to either visit us or get someone to do the research for you. Look on our website for specific information about the searches we can carry out on Merchant Navy seamen and officers 1913-1972.

Once you know what ships a seaman served on you can look at ships’ movement cards from record series BT 389. The cards show the movements of British and Allied merchant ships during the Second World War and can be searched and downloaded from our catalogue at a cost of £3.50 per item.

If you can’t find information on the relevant ship(s) from these cards, look at our research guidance on Royal Navy operations in the Second World War to find out about convoy and other records we have that might be helpful.

8. Published sources

Consult Lloyd’s Medals, 1836-1989 for a published list of officers and men of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet of exceptional gallantry at sea in the time of war.

Consult Seedie’s list of awards to the Merchant Navy for World War II.

Read Medals: the Researcher’s guide by William Spencer (Kew, 2006) for further guidance on how to find medals.

Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 95