Last year I wrote about my Grandfather, Philip Murphy, and his time in the Merchant Navy, particularly during World War II.
During the research I was intrigued to find a stamp in one of his discharge books which stated ‘1939-43 Star Ribbon issued.’ Presuming this was some sort of war service award, I contacted (with my Mother’s consent) the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to enquire whether he ever received, or was entitled to, a campaign medal for service during World War II. I also sent them copies of the relevant pages in his discharge books.
The MCA replied asking me to provide the movement cards from the Mauretania and the Samaria, ships we know Philip served on during the war (I added the Scythia which he joined in October 1944). I found the records in the National Archive and forwarded them.
What came next was incredible. The MCA wrote back to me saying that Philip was to be posthumously awarded no less than five medals in recognition of his service in WWII. These would be issued to my Mother as his nearest surviving next of kin.
The medals Philip has received are:
1939-45 Star Awarded for service in the Second World War. Naval personnel qualified if they completed six months service and at least one voyage was made through an operational area.
Atlantic Star Awarded for six months service afloat, in the Atlantic or in Home Waters, within the period 3 September 1939 to 8 May 1945.
Africa Star For service in an operational area of North Africa between 10th June 1940 and 12th May 1943. Philip also qualifies for a clasp with this, issued to denote specific service in North Africa in 1942–43.
Italy Star For Royal and Merchant Navy service in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea and operations in and around the Dodecanese Islands, Corsica, Greece, Sardinia and Yugoslavia after 11th June 1943.
War Medal 1939-1945 Awarded to those who had served in the Armed Forces or Merchant Navy full-time for at least 28 days between 3rd September 1939 and 2nd September 1945. In the Merchant Navy, the 28 days must have been served at sea.
It’s a story which is both moving and amazing. Philip joined the Merchant Navy in 1924, aged 22, to work in the galley and probably never expected to be sailing through war zones 15 years later. I still keep thinking about how dangerous it must have been at sea during those war years. There was threat from all sides – torpedoes from U-Boats, attack from the air, mines and gun fire from battleships. We can only imagine how stressful it must have been for all involved.
In the 1970s Philip came to live with us after my Grandmother passed away. He was a quiet, likeable and dignified man who loved to sit and read the racing pages. He liked to get out of the house every day and would often walk to the bookmakers for a flutter. He was also a tenacious and wily cribbage player. My eldest brother is named after him. We had many conversations but he never spoke about the war, preferring instead to discuss football and his exploits playing on the wing for the ships teams (He used to run outside the touchline to evade his marker!).
I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity to learn more about his remarkable life and to finally witness the recognition he deserves for service to his country.
The medals are things of great beauty which photographs don’t really do justice to. When you hold them it feels like you have a weighty historical artifact in your hand. The ribbons are of great significance, as illustrated by the lovely ocean-like blue and green of the Atlantic Star.
The ribbon on the 1939-45 War Medal is white, dark blue and red, representing the colours of the Union Flag. It was designed by Liverpool-born Edward Carter Preston, a renowned sculptor and medallist. He also designed the bronze memorial plaques presented to the families of British servicemen and women who died during the First World War and spent 30 years working on a series of wonderful sculptures for the magnificent Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.
Special thanks to The Maritime & Coastguard Agency registry of shipping and seamen.