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medals for Merchant Navy service during the Second World War

New Zealand Merchant Navy personnel are eligible for all of the Second World War campaign stars and war medals awarded to New Zealand Armed Forces personnel, with the exception of the Air Crew Europe Star and the Defence Medal.

The medals and campaign stars most commonly issued to New Zealand Merchant Navy personnel are:

1. The New Zealand War Service Medal - which is awarded for 28 days full time service in the New Zealand Armed Forces or 28 days service at sea by New Zealand Merchant Navy personnel between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. This medal was instituted by the New Zealand government in 1948.

2. The War Medal 1939-1945 - Qualifying service in the Merchant Navy for this Commonwealth award is 28 days service anywhere at sea between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. For Armed Forces personnel the equivalent qualifying criteria is also 28 days full time service.

3. The 1939-45 Star - which recognises 180 days ‘service afloat in areas of active operations (dangerous waters)’ between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. From 10 June 1940 to 8 May 1945 ‘dangerous waters’ are defined as ‘anywhere at sea’.

Note that whether Merchant Navy personnel were based in New Zealand or at a port in a combat zone has no impact on their eligibility. It was the amount of time spent in ‘dangerous waters’ which is important. The 180 day requirement can be accumulated over a number of voyages through ‘dangerous waters’.

4. The Atlantic Star - which, following entitlement to the 1939-45 Star, is awarded to personnel who served a further 180 days in Atlantic waters, including in the United Kingdom ‘Home waters’ and in the convoys to North Russia (including time spent as a Prisoner of War). This Star is also issued for any length of qualifying service in the last six months of the War in Europe (8 November 1944 to 8 May 1945).

5. The Arctic Star – This award was instituted by the British Government in February 2013. It is awarded for service of one day or more north of the Arctic Circle between 3 September 1939 and 8 May 1945. Merchant Navy personnel who served in the convoys to North Russia qualify for the Arctic Star.

6. The Pacific Star – which is awarded for service of one day or more in the operational areas of the Pacific between 8 December 1941 and 2 September 1945. For Navy and Merchant Navy personnel the 1939-45 Star (180 days service afloat in areas of active operations) needs to have been qualified for first, before the Pacific Star can be awarded. The Pacific Star is also issued for any length of qualifying service in the last six months of the War in the Pacific (7 March 1945 to 2 September 1945).

7. Foreign awards - Some Merchant Navy personnel have also qualified for and received one or more foreign awards for their sea service – usually a Russian award(s) for the veterans of voyages to North Russia. These Russian commemorative medals (e.g. for the 60th anniversary in 2005) were not administered by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), were only issued to living veterans, and are no longer available from the Russian Embassy in Wellington.

How to apply (updated 24 January 2014)

New Zealand Merchant Navy veterans, and the families of deceased veterans, are still able to apply for the issue of any unclaimed British Commonwealth and New Zealand awards, including the recently instituted Arctic Star. Applications should be sent to the Medals Office, NZ Defence Force, Private Bag 905, Upper Hutt 5140.

Application forms can be downloaded from the NZDF Medals website, or a paper copy of the form can be requested by phoning (04) 527-5270.

Applications should include as much detail as known on Ship name(s), the name of the Ship’s Captain, the name of any foreign shipping companies they may have sailed with, and enclose copies of any relevant documents.

NZDF does not hold files about New Zealand Merchant Navy service. The surviving information is in the Shipping Company records (when these records still exist). To try obtain information and/or documentation about your deceased relative's Merchant Navy service you can start by contacting Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland, who can provide contact details to you of New Zealand and foreign institutions which have archived records of crew members from New Zealand owned shipping companies.

If you have some information on the ships served on, or a partial name of a shipping company, this information may assist Voyager staff to identify the correct Shipping Company.

Please note there are thousands of shipping companies world-wide and not all of their records have survived.

Images and further information on all of the British Commonwealth awards and the New Zealand award can also be found on the NZDF Medals website.

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 This page was last reviewed 24 January, 2014 and is current.

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