Australian Merchant Sailors’ Day Badge

Whilst it was common for paper or card badges to be sold for charity drives during the Second World War, there was some use of tin and celluloid badges as well. Often the badges were offered at two price points- a penny or two for a cardboard example and 6d or 1/- for the tin badges. These badges obviously survive a little better than their more fragile cousins and today we are looking at a badge sold in Australia to raise money for merchant sailors. The badge is made in blue and white and is designed to take the form of a life ring; it was sold for 6d:

The badge has a single vertical pin on the rear to attach it to an item of clothing:

This little pin badge would be sold to raise money to pay for comforts for merchant sailors in Australia, such as knitted items like hats and gloves, to run recreation facilities in port to allow men to relax for a few hours after a hard voyage or to provide aid to merchant sailors who had been taken prisoner such as cigarettes, books and writing materials. The Merchant Sailor’s Day commemorated by this badge is not to be confused with the modern Australian Merchant Sailor’s Day which is held on September 3rd each year, the day the first allied merchantman was torpedoed in 1939. The modern event is a remembrance day when the sacrifices of the nation’s merchant sailors across the last 110 years are remembered. The Naval Historical Society of Australia puts the modern event into context:

Thirty thousand two hundred and forty-eight British Empire merchant seamen who served at sea under the Red Ensign lost their lives doing so. The Australian Department of Veterans Affairs nominal roll records 3,500 Australian merchant seamen serving in World War II in Australian registered ships. The Australian War Memorial has placed the names of 845 of them who are known to have died on war service during World War II on the commemorative roll.

The true number of Australian born merchant seamen lost on all the world’s oceans will never be known as these 845 do not include the hundreds of unrecorded Australian seamen killed while serving in British merchant ships and in the ships of the International Seamen’s Pool.

After the war was won shipmates remembered their lost shipmates on ANZAC Day and bereaved families remembered their missing fathers, brothers and sons every day, but very little was done to teach succeeding generations of Australians about them. School books and history lessons do not mention that the merchant navy’s ships were the means by which Australian diggers and allied infantry were landed, sustained, armed, fed, reinforced and enabled to fight and win their land battles. Nor do they mention that the people of the United Kingdom depended for their daily needs on ships carrying frozen meat and food of all kinds from Australia and New Zealand and international suppliers.

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