The Merchant Seafarers’ bravery and sacrifice in assisting HM Armed Forces in military operations has been formally commemorated with the launch of the UK Merchant Seafarers Veterans Badge. This is the only variant of the HM Armed Forces Veterans Badge and recognises the unique service provided by merchant seafarers in support of military operations. 


The Merchant Navy and UK fishing fleets have always been called upon to provide support to both the UK Armed Forces and the Nation during wartime, other hostilities and military operations. These actions, together with seafarers’ personnel records of the ships in which they served, are well documented. There is already a broad consensus from all parties, including the MOD, that such seafarers should be regarded as veterans within the Armed Forces Community. However, the terms ‘Merchant Navy Veteran’ and ‘Merchant Seafaring Veteran’ continue to be used without understanding or a single clear definition. Consequently those civilian seafarers who are entitled to be regarded as veterans and therefore part of the Armed Forces Community occasionally have their status challenged or ignored altogether. It is considered that an officially endorsed definition would bring greater clarity to this sometimes confused area, as well as greater recognition to this often overlooked section of the UK seafaring community.

The aim of this paper is to provide a common, agreed and endorsed definition of UK Merchant Seafarers who form part of the Armed Forces Community.

The Armed Forces Community
The Armed Forces Community, as currently defined by the MOD, comprises individuals currently serving as members of HM Armed Forces, including the UK Reserve Forces; their families; widows/widowers; veterans and their dependants.


Qualification by Conflict
World Wars I & 2. Although there are no known merchant seafarers now alive from World War I, their retrospective status as veterans may still be appreciated by their descendants. All merchant seafarers and fishermen serving aboard any UK vessel between the first and last day of World War II were deemed to be serving “Under Admiralty Charter” throughout the conflict. While their actual conditions of service differed, these personnel faced the same dangers and should, in terms of recognition, be treated as if they were Royal Navy personnel during the period of this service. WWII began on 3 September 1939 (when the first vessel SS “Athena” was sunk) and ended on VJ Day on 15 August 1945. During the conflict a large number of merchant seafarers and fishermen found themselves onboard ships that were requisitioned by the Royal Navy. Many of these men volunteered to remain onboard as crew, working alongside Royal Navy personnel. While they remained on their civilian pay and leave conditions, they were required to sign T124X or T124T agreements which placed them under the Naval Discipline Act and strengthened their case for similar recognition to their RN colleagues.

Other Conflicts post 1945. Those legally defined military operations recognised by the UK Government as those in which the Merchant fleet supported the military included, but are not limited to, Korea (1950-53), Suez (1956), South Atlantic (1982), Gulf (Kuwait Crisis) (1990-91) and Gulf (Iraq Invasion) (2003). Significantly all Merchant Navy seafarers who served in these zones are entitled to receive campaign medals following certain periods in theatre: for example, over 5000 such medals were awarded for the Falklands campaign alone. Under the Protection of Military Remains Act (PMRA), merchant vessels (SS Armenian, SS Storaa and Atlantic Conveyor) have so far been designated as protected places, in recognition of their status in supporting UK military operations.

Non UK Conflicts
A significant number of British merchant seafarers, in going about their lawful business, were required to sail into war zones not involving the UK. These include places such as Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf during the Iran/Iraq war. These were warlike areas and a number of British merchant seafarers were killed or injured as a result of armed actions. More recently, the concept of war zones and areas of warlike operations has been extended to include piracy hotspots with such areas being designated as “high risk” e.g. the UK Warlike Operations Area Committee has recently declared an area in the Gulf of Aden as “high risk”. Nonetheless, it is not intended to pursue official veteran status, which implies some form of service to the Nation, for these personnel, and they are not considered to be part of the Armed Forces Community.

Proof of Service
While mercantile marine records are not comparable with those held on behalf of the UK Armed Forces,British merchant seafarers normally have Discharge Books which contain details of the vessels in which they served including the dates. The names and dates of those ships that sailed into the operational zones are retained in the records held by the MCA’s Registry of Shipping and Seamen. The Royal Naval Historical Archive holds online records, and the Merchant Navy Association and the Federation of Merchant Mariners also keep an expanding database of those qualifying personnel who have been awarded the Merchant Navy Veterans badge. Ships’ Articles, crew lists and discharge books can also provide supporting evidence. Thus, proof of service is based on confirmation of the individual’s ship discharge record and that ship’s service in support of UK military operations.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary

RFA personnel are merchant seafarers employed by MOD (Navy) entirely to support the UK ArmedForces. All those with RFA service are considered as HM Armed Forces Veterans in accordance with existing arrangements and as such continue to apply to the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency for the HM Armed Forces Veterans Badge.

It is therefore concluded that, exceptionally, those civilians forming part of the veterans element of the Armed Forces Community are those who have served in commercial vessels supporting the UK Armed Forces on legally defined military operations. The actual size of this community is presently unknown, but further studies will be undertaken by MN organisations to establish numbers more accurately. Given that the definition of an Armed Forces veteran is any person who has served in the Forces of the Crown and includes those with RFA service, it follows that a comparable definition for a UK civilian seafarer from either the Merchant Navy or the fishing fleets who is considered to be an Armed Forces veteran should be:
‘Anyone who has served on a commercial vessel at a time when it was operated to facilitate legally defined UK military operations by HM Armed Forces’ and these personnel be called “UK Merchant Seafaring Veterans”.

The COBSEO Executive has agreed the above definition of a UK Merchant Seafaring Veteran, recognising that subsequent work is needed to identify the numbers of qualified seafarers entitled to such definition. It is recommended that the Ministry of Defence accepts that definition and endorses its official use.

Arctic Star
The Arctic Star is awarded for operational service of any length North of the Arctic Circle (66, 32 N) between 3 September 1939 and 8 May 1945.   

The Arctic Star commemorates the Arctic Convoys that sailed to North Russia in support of the Russian allies.                                                                                                Arctic Star 2a

To apply for the Arctic Star, you must have:

  • service of any length either afloat or as part of land operations north of the Arctic Circle in the army, Royal Navy, Merchant Navy, and RAF ground crew                
  • service of any length as RAF aircrew who landed or served in the air north of the Arctic Circle
  • approved civilians who served in support of military operations north of the Arctic Circle

Nuclear Test Medal 
The Nuclear Test Medal was announced by the Prime Minister in November 2022 to recognise the significant contribution of military, civilian and overseas staff and personnel who participated in Britain's nuclear testing programme in the 1950s and 1960s.

For eligibility, the medal is awarded in recognition of those UK Service and civilian personnel and individuals from other nations, who served at the locations NTMwhere the UK atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted for a single day or more, including the preparatory and clear-up phases, between 1952 and 1967 (inclusive). Also eligible are UK Service and civilian personnel who served at the locations where United States atospheric nuclear tests under Operation DOMINIC took place in 1962.

The medal can be awarded posthumously to the legal next of kin of eligible individuals who have passed away.


Click Here to download an application form for Veterans Badge

Click Here to download an application form for Arctic Star

Click Here to download an application form for Nuclear Test Medal

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