Merchant Navy records reveal Britain’s ‘fourth service’

In commemoration of Merchant Navy Day, the National Archives have made available the records of over one million records contain details of Merchant Navy Seamen for the first time.

The Merchant Navy were named Britain’s ‘fourth service’ by Winston Churchill. Consisting of all seagoing vessels with commercial interests and their crews, the service was integral in placing Britain on the trade and industry world map.

Sometimes described as a ‘floating United Nations’, many ships’ crews were made up of international seamen from across the world, from Canada to China, from Somaliland to Scandinavia.


Janet Dempsey, Marine and Maritime Record Specialist at The National Archives, said: ‘The Merchant Navy Seamen records cover a very significant era in nautical history commencing at the very peak of the popularity of ocean travel. These newly digitised records make a fascinating social record as well as a valuable family history resource.’

Around 1.5 million people were employed in the Merchant Navy at various points in the last century, so many researchers are likely to find ancestors in these records.

Debra Chatfield, Marketing Manager at, commented: ‘A large proportion of the UK population will have Merchant Seamen in their ancestry. Hopefully these records will help fill the gaps and people will enjoy learning about what life was like for the brave, seafaring merchants who helped the island nation of Britain prosper.’

Merchant Navy Records

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic




Popular stories