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

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1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide to find out how and where to locate records of medal entitlements and honours for merchant seamen. The guide covers records of campaign medals (awarded for service in a specific campaign or war) and of gallantry medals (awarded for acts of gallantry and bravery).

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

2. Second World War campaign medals

2.1 All campaign medals except Arctic Star

Search by first and last name for records of the award of Second World War campaign medals, including the 1939-1945 Star and the War Medal but excluding the Arctic Star, which was not awarded until 2012 and for which there is a separate process (see below).

Seamen were automatically entitled to some medals if they died in service. You can search by name for records of merchant seamen who died in service or went ‘missing presumed dead’ in the Second World War Rolls of Honour (£) at Ancestry.co.uk. The original records are held in series BT 339.

For merchant marine officers who served in the Royal Naval Reserve, download and scroll through the mishmash of records, which include items of correspondence, relating to awards to Royal Naval Reserve officers (1939-1946) in BT 164/23.

Published sources may also provide information of medal or award entitlement.

2.2 Arctic Star

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 Ministry of Defence’s Veterans UK pages to find out:

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

To issue an Arctic Star the Ministry of Defence require 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. You may already have documents that prove this and/or you may also be able to find this proof within records held at The National Archives. The Ministry of Defence require either of the following records as evidence of the ships a seaman served on:

  • Continuous Discharge Book – issued to the seamen themselves with details of the ships they served on (you may already have this)
  • Central Register of Seamen – held at The National Archives; see our guide for advice on finding an individual seaman within these records but to examine them you will need to visit us or pay for research

Once you have found out which ships a seaman served on you can search for and download (£) ships’ movement cards from our website to establish whether any of the ships took part in an operation or convoy north of the Arctic Circle at the time that the seaman was part of the crew. The cards, from record series BT 389, show the movements of British and Allied merchant ships during the Second World War.

Read our research guide on Royal Navy operations in the Second World War for advice on other records we have that might be helpful.

2.3 Applying for Second World War campaign medals

To request the issuing of a Second World War campaign medal, for which you will need to provide evidence, contact the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

You may be able to find evidence of a seaman’s sea service in one of the registers of seamen or by locating ships’ movement cards (BT 389). This may prove the vessel was in the theatre of war on that date.

3. Second World War gallantry medals

The gallantry medal most commonly awarded to merchant seamen was the Albert Medal.

3.1 Home Office records of the award of the Albert Medal

Search for records of the award of the Albert Medal among the registered Home Office papers in series HO 45. Search with the words ‘awards’ or ‘Albert Medal’ plus the name of the recipient – it may help to include a date range. The date range of the records is primarily from the 1870s to the 1940s.

3.2 Recommendations for and registers of Gallantry at Sea awards, 1856-1973

Browse and download, free of charge, recommendations, registers and other related records of Gallantry at Sea awards in series BT 261.

3.3 Second World War Merchant Navy awards files

Use the search box below to search our catalogue listings of Second World War Merchant Navy award files, by name of person or ship. The records, held in series T 335, list the type of award, the recipient’s rank at the time and the ship they were serving on.

Narrow your search by using double quotation marks to find a ship’s or person’s full name, such as “Sydney Star” or “John Williams”.





3.4 Records of awards among Admiralty correspondence and papers

To make use of these records you will need to visit us. Though accessing admiralty correspondence and papers in series ADM 1 and ADM 199 can be tricky and requires the use of the indexes and digests held in ADM 12, the records themselves can be quite detailed. When consulting the digests you will need to look for the digest headings for ‘Honours and Awards’, covered by Code 85 (or more precisely, codes 85.1 to 85.10). For more on this and for more information on how to use these records in general read Naval correspondence using the ADM 12 indexes and digests.

4. First World War campaign medals

Most of the records of the award of First World War campaign medals to merchant seamen are available online.

4.1 Merchant seamen’s campaign medal records 1914-1918

See our guide and customized search of records of the issuing of the British War Medal, the Mercantile Marine Medal and the Silver War Badge to merchant seamen and officers in the First World War.

4.2 Roll of Naval War Medals, 1914-1920

Download, free of charge, the Roll of Naval War Medals (ADM 171/130-132), which lists the award of the British War Medal, Victory Medal and 1914-1915 Star to men of the Mercantile Marine Reserve and officers and men of the Royal Naval Reserve.

4.3 First World War Rolls of Honour

Search and download records from the First World War Rolls of Honour at Ancestry.co.uk (£) for details of  merchant marine fleet crew who died in service. The original records are held in series BT 339.

5. First World War gallantry medals

5.1 Recommendations for and registers of Gallantry at Sea awards, 1856-1973

Browse and download, free of charge, recommendations, registers and other related records of Gallantry at Sea awards in series BT 261.

5.2 Records of awards among Admiralty correspondence and papers

To make use of these records you will need to visit us. Though accessing admiralty correspondence and papers in series ADM 116 can be tricky and requires the use of the indexes and digests held in ADM 12, the records themselves can be quite detailed. When consulting the digests you will need to look for the digest headings for ‘Honours and Awards’, covered by Code 85 (or more precisely, codes 85.1 to 85.10). ADM 137 holds further material. For more on this and for more information on how to use these records in general read Naval correspondence using the ADM 12 indexes and digests.

6. Pre-First World War campaign medals

Download, free of charge, from our website, digital microfilm copies of rolls and lists of officers and ratings awarded or claiming campaign medals. The original Admiralty records, in series ADM 171, are primarily of Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel but include the awards of medals to merchant seamen too, as follows:

  • Lists of claims for and awards of the Sea Transport Medal for officers of the Mercantile Marine who served on vessels transporting troops to the South African War and to the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899-1902)
  • Medal roll of naval and marine personnel who qualified for the Egyptian Medal (1882)

7. Pre-First World War gallantry medals

7.1 Albert Medal register, 1866-1913

Search the Albert Medal register, in BT 97/1, for details of all Albert Medals awarded for gallantry at sea from 1866 until 1891; from that date onwards there are details only of awards of the medal made to civilians.

Search for records of the award of the Albert Medal among the registered Home Office papers in series HO 45. Search with the words ‘awards’ or ‘Albert Medal’ plus the name of the recipient – it may help to include a date range. The date range of the records is primarily from the 1870s to the 1940s.

7.2 Recommendations for and registers of Gallantry at Sea awards, 1856-1973

Browse and download, free of charge, recommendations, registers and other related records of Gallantry at Sea awards in series BT 261.

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.