IT was a small symbol of the huge roles they played in protecting their country.

Around 40 veterans of the armed services and Merchant Navy were awarded special badges at a ceremony at the Southampton Civic Centre.

Her Majesty’s Armed Forces Veterans badges were presented to city residents who have served in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force in conflicts since the Second World War.

It was also a special day for members of the Merchant Navy, who received their own badges – the first organisation to be recognised by the Government outside of the armed forces.

The ceremony was organised and hosted by Southampton Itchen MP John Denham.

Mr Denham, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said: “Presenting the medals was very moving because you know that behind every badge there was a story of somebody who had served their country and helped keep it safe.”

Daily Echo: Memorial walls backed by veterans honoured for keeping us safe

Mr Denham also threw his support behind the Daily Echo-backed campaign to build two new walls to remember the city’s fallen next to the cenotaph in Watt’s Park. And he said he had a personal reason to support it.

Mr Denham said: “My uncle, a Southampton boy, was killed in the Second World War and I know, in my own family, my daughter has visited his memorial.

“Although it’s not in Southampton, it’s important for us to know that there’s a memorial miles away for him and it’s important for people in the city that they can see the names of loved ones, too.”

Victor Maurice Sparkes served in the Royal Navy from 1939 to 1945 before being killed when mine-clearing ship he served on was blown up.

His widow, Mabel Dear, 88, from Woolston, and their daughter, Marcia Pettersen, from West End, received the award in his memory.

Mabel said: “I’m very proud to be here today.”

Marcia added: “My father and all those killed in service should never be forgotten.”

Victor’s family also backed the Daily Echo’s memorial walls campaign.

Mabel said: “I think we need it so that future generations appreciate what those before them did.”

The lapel badges have been available to anyone who has served in the Army since 2004 in a bid to increase recognition for members of the armed forces.