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Messina earthquake

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: Sicily and Calabria

Year: 1908

Date/s: 28th December 1908

Messina earthquake and tsunami with a moment magnitude of 7.1 took about 123,000 lives on December 28, 1908, in Sicily and Calabria, southern Italy.

The major cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria were almost completely destroyed.

Many nations came to the aid of the affected areas and various ships in the Mediterranean at the time were deployed to offer whatever help could be given. Messina was the worst affected population centre and a number of Royal and British Merchant Navy vessels landed men to assist, from digging survivors out from collapsed buildings to assisting with the evacuation of the injured and homeless.

Royal Marines assisted with the relief landing from Ships of the Fleet.

In the aftermath of this it was decided by the Italian Royal family that a 'merit medal' would be produced to be awarded to those who distinguished themselves "whether by rendering assistance and medical treatment, or by donating health and administrative services and meeting the material and spiritual needs of the sufferers of the disaster" . This medal was struck in gold, silver and bronze - and in two sizes; 40mm and 30mm, - 40mm for institutions and 30mm for individuals. An estimate of up to three hundred of these merit medals were awarded.

Another royal decree of 20th February 1910 announced that a commemorative medal was to be produced, to be awarded to everyone who came to the aid of the Italian people in the disaster. It is this second medal - the 'commemorative medal' that frequently turns up in British Naval medal groups.

The commemorative medal was generally awarded to those who landed to help in the relief operations.

Medal information

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