How to look for records of... Merchant seamen’s campaign medal records 1939-1945
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
What are these records?
This collection of records, BT 395, lists the medals awarded to merchant seamen for their service in the Second World War (1939-1945), with the exception of the Arctic Star. For details of the Arctic Star see our guide to Merchant seaman’s medals and honours.
The medals were claimed and issued from 1946 to 2002. Medals were not automatically issued, but had to be claimed by the merchant seaman. You can find out whether a medal was issued by looking at the markings on the records.
What information do the records contain?
Each entry provides:
- the seaman’s name
- ribbons and clasps issued
- reference to the medal papers file (held at the Registry of Shipping and Seamen)
The seamen’s discharge book numbers are usually listed, and you may find the date and place of birth too.
How do I search the records?
You can search (£) the records in Discovery, our catalogue, by filling in the form below.
You do not have to fill in all fields to search.
Types of medals
Nine types of medals were awarded to British merchant seamen who served in the Second World War and who met the qualifications for each medal. Eight of them are searchable here whilst the ninth, the Arctic Star, was not awarded until 2012 and records of its award do not exist at The National Archives. For more information on the Arctic Star and advice on how you can still apply for it, see our guide to Merchant seaman’s medals and honours.
|War Medal (1939-1945)||Generally awarded if the seaman qualified for one of the Stars. A merchant seaman had to have served a minimum of 28 days at sea. Also awarded, with no minimum service requirement, if service was terminated by death, disability due to service or capture as a prisoner-of-war.|
|Atlantic Star (1939-1945)||Awarded after the Battle of the Atlantic for service between 3 September 1939 and 8 May 1945. The qualifying service period for the Atlantic Star could only begin after the 1939-1945 Star had been earned by six months’ service. A merchant seaman had to serve in the Atlantic, home waters, North Russia Convoys or South Atlantic waters. The Atlantic Star was also awarded to those awarded a gallantry medal, with no minimum qualifying period. There was also no minimum qualifying period if service was terminated due to death or disability while on active duty.|
|1939-1945 Star||Awarded for service between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. A merchant seaman could qualify after six months’ service with at least one voyage in an operational area. The 1939-1945 Star was also awarded to recipients of a gallantry medal, with no minimum qualifying period. There was also no minimum qualifying period if service was terminated due to death or disability while on active duty.|
|Africa Star (1940-1943)||Awarded for service between 10 June 1940 and 12 May 1943, serving in the Mediterranean. A merchant seaman might also qualify serving in operations off the Moroccan coast between 8 November 1942 and 12 May 1943. The minimum qualifying period was one day.|
|Pacific Star (1941-1945)||Awarded for service in the Pacific Ocean, South China Sea or the Indian Ocean between 8 December 1941 and 2 September 1945. Generally the qualifying service period for the Pacific Star could only begin after the 1939-1945 Star had been earned by six months’ service.|
|Burma Star (1941-1945)||Awarded for service in the Burma Campaign between 11 December 1941 and 2 September 1945. A merchant seaman qualified serving within a restricted area in the Bay of Bengal. Generally the qualifying service period for the Burma Star could only begin after the 1939-1945 Star had been earned by six months’ service.|
|France and Germany Star (1944-1945)||Awarded for service between 6 June 1944 and 8 May 1945, in direct support of land operations in France, Belgium, Holland or Germany, in the North sea, the English Channel or the Bay of Biscay (service off the coast of the south of France could qualify for the Italy Star, see below). There was no minimum time qualification for a Merchant Seaman.|
|Italy Star (1943-1945)||Awarded for service between 11 June 1943 and 8 May 1945, in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. Operations in and around the Dodecanese, Corsica, Greece, Sardinia and Yugoslavia after 11 June 1943 would also qualify. Generally the qualifying service period for the Italy Star could only begin after the 1939-1945 Star had been earned by six months’ service. There were no clasps awarded with the Italy Star.|
What do the records look like?
The image you order will usually come with a number of medal records for other seamen. If you are ordering more than one record for seamen with similar names, you should check if their records are on the same page. If they appear on the same page, you should only pay one fee.
The column on the right of each record contains a reference number to the entitlement file held by the Registry of Shipping and Seamen.
The following codes may be found on the record:
- WM (War Medal)
- AT (Atlantic Star)
- 1939 (1939-1945 Star)
- AF (Africa Star)
- PA (Pacific Star)
- BU (Burma Star)
- FR (France & Germany Star)
- IT (Italy Star)
- CL (Clasp)
- OLE (Oak Leaf Emblem)
Markings found on the record may include:
- a cross through a code, indicating that the medal was issued
- a circle over a code, indicating that only the ribbon for that medal has been issued
- a cross and a circle, indicating that both a medal and a ribbon have been issued
The letter ‘R’ over a code can signify that an application for that medal was reviewed and refused.
Other terms you may find include:
- DNA: Director of Naval Accounts (the Royal Navy medal issuing authority) or, more recently, Do Not Authorise
- Refer to Aust: the medals were not issued to an individual by the Registry of Shipping but referred on to the Australian authorities
- Refer to NZ: the medals were not issued to an individual by the Registry of Shipping but referred on to the New Zealand authorities
A single oak leaf emblem attached to the War Medal ribbon denotes a Mention-in-Despatches; the silver oak leaf, a King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. Even if a person had several ‘mentions’, he would only have one emblem.
Anyone who qualified for both the Pacific Star and the Burma Star would be awarded the first Star earned. A Clasp would be worn to signify service for the other Star.
Anyone who qualified for both the France & Germany Star and the Atlantic Star would be awarded the first Star earned, with a Clasp. A silver rose on the ribbon bar signifies the award of a bar.
Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?
If a seaman is not listed, it may be because they have not claimed their medal entitlement. To find out about a seaman’s entitlement, contact the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen.