The Mercantile Marine War Medal was introduced in 1919 and was awarded to members of the Merchant Navy who had served at sea for at least six months, or had complete one or more voyages through a war zone or danger zone, between 4 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 – the period between the commencement of World War One and the Armistice. The medal, which was instituted by the Board of Trade and approved by King George V, was issued to recognise the contribution made by the country’s peacetime mariners who, at great loss, continued to serve throughout the First World War and who played a crucial role in Britain’s ability to wage war.
In total, 133,135 Mercantile Marine War Medals were issued for service during World War One, of which 624 were awarded to Canadian seaman. In addition to those who had made one of more voyage through a danger zone, mariners who had worked in coastal trades during the war, such as fishermen, pilots and lightship crews, were also eligible for the medal – as were those who met the qualification criteria but had transferred in or out of the service from the Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force. Recipients were also awarded the British War Medal but did not qualify for the 1914 Star, 1914-15 Star or Victory Medal unless they had also served in the fighting services before or after joining the Merchant Navy.
The Mercantile Marine War Medal is cast in bronze metal and features a circular design that measures 36 millimetres in diameter. The obverse displays the bare-headed effigy of King George V which is surrounded by the legend “GEORGIVS V BRITT: OMN: REX ET IND: IMP:” In this respect, the design is identical to the British War Medal. The reverse was designed by Harold Stabler and features a merchant vessel in full steam, with a sinking German U-Boat and sailing ship in the background. The legend “FOR WAR SERVICE – MERCANTILE MARINE -1914–1918” is displayed in three lines at the bottom of the medal, with the entire image encircled by a laurel wreath. The medal is suspended by a bar to its ribbon of green and red with a central white stripe, which represented a vessel’s starboard and port running lights with the masthead light in the centre.