THE MERCHANT MARINE UNIFORM
I have had a few questions about what constitutes the Merchant Marine uniform so here is some information for those interested.
Everybody is familiar with the Naval uniform but the Merchant Navy's uniform is not quite so well known. They are very similar at first appearance but to the knowledgeable eye there are noticeable differences.
Merchant Marine uniforms are not 'bought off the rack' but are made by a tailor to fit the individual merchant mariner who commissions it.
The Merchant Marine dress uniform jacket.
The uniform is usually black in colour (or a very dark 'navy' blue) and is simply a suit jacket with matching trousers. The jacket is double breasted with gold braid on the cuffs and the trousers have a non-pleated front. Both are made of a high quality wool. The 'weight' of the wool material is left to personal preference for the climate that the uniform will be worn in (the colder it is the heavier the material will be).
Black leather oxford shoes and a white peaked cap with badge device complete the uniform.
(If you want to have a uniform made consult the yellow pages for a uniform tailor in your area. If you live in Vancouver I can recommend CLAYMORE CLOTHES on East Hastings Street. )
What differentiates the Merchant Marine uniform from the Naval uniform are the specific accoutrements.
On the officer's uniform jacket there are eight brass buttons running vertically down the front in two rows (non-officers wear six buttons). The buttons are specific to the Merchant Marine. They are round with a raised impression of Nelson's crown in front of a traditional anchor surrounded by a braided rope.
Top row a traditional Merchant Marine button from P&O,
Middle row Canadian Navy buttons with the Queen's crown,
and Bottom row Merchant Navy buttons.
An alternative button style used in Canada has the word 'CANADA' across the centre with something resembling a crown above, an Admiralty pattern anchor below, and a braided rope around the button edge. This version looks almost exactly the same as the Canadian Navy's button but it does not have the Queen's Crown or the fine horizontally lined background on the button face like the navy version. Other Merchant Marine button styles used are specific to the company that the merchant mariner is employed with. They often have the shipping company's 'house flag' or other such recognizable company symbol on their face.
(In Canada these buttons are made by William Scully Limited of Montreal or GAUNT of London, England.)
The Officer's peak cap looks similar to the Naval version with only slight differences. The top of the cap is made of a white vinyl material, a wide black fabric band runs around the base with a black glossy visor in the front. Attached to the wide black band is a special cap device specific only to the Merchant Marine officer. Like the buttons, there are a variety of cap device types which can be employed including different styles for non-officer ranks.
Two types of the Merchant Marine cap badge.
On the cuffs of the uniform jacket and the black shoulder epaulettes are the officer's rank. The rank rings are made of French gold braid and are quite expensive. The style of the rank rings are specific to the company. The main type utilizes a diamond shape which is either in the centre of the rank rings or on the top ring (the Royal Navy utilizes a circle called the 'executive curl' in the same position). The diamond shape traditionally identifies the wearer as holder of a recognized certificate of competency (licence) as opposed to a commission like in the Navy.
Here is a chart of the standard ranks in the Merchant Marine.
(Taken from Ships For All by Frank Bowen)
Worn over the left breast are the medals awarded/received by the individual Merchant Mariner. Most medals were issued during the two World Wars, however, there is a general service medal (pictured below). The person may also wear medals received for special recognition from the Canadian and foreign governments. An example might be the Bravery Medal or a Companion to the Order of Canada.
From left to right: Large MN medal, ribbon bar and small 'mess dress' medal.
For non-dress uniform functions there is a general blazer jacket worn with gray trousers.
The blazer is standard with a Merchant Navy badge on the left breast pocket and a Merchant Navy tie.
If you have any questions or require clarifications on the above feel free to contact me. If you have further information or examples of buttons, cap devices or uniform parts please send me a picture.
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15 October 2008