Navy chef’s record-breaking half century in the galley

A Navy chef is on the verge of making history – 50 years of cooking for fellow sailors and Royal Marines.

Chief Petty Officer Martin Etwell from Newbury is believed to be the first person in the 115-year history of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary – whose ships support Royal Navy operations around the globe – to reach the milestone.

The 65-year-old, currently serving in the Gulf aboard RFA Cardigan Bay, has spent 49 years working in ship’s galleys – mostly at sea.

Working in a bakery as a teenager sparked his interest in a career as a chef and, with the promise of travelling the world whilst doing a job he’d love, he signed up for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as a ‘galley boy’ in May 1971 aged just 16.

He learned his craft quickly, spending his first 11 months away from home sailing to the Far East, including stops in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

“I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world throughout my 49 years in the RFA,” said Martin. “From the Far East to the US and Caribbean, and everywhere in between. I recently made it to Japan, a lifelong ambition.”

He’s also prepared meals in the line of fire, serving aboard RFA Fort Austin during the Falklands conflict as the ship’s second cook and baker.

The vessel accompanied assault ship HMS Fearless into San Carlos Water when the landings to liberate the islands began. Fort Austin’s gunners claimed one aircraft shot down, while the ship survived near misses from Argentine bombs during four days in ‘Bomb Alley’. She subsequently took survivors from destroyer HMS Coventry aboard.

“After being in the Merchant Navy for 11 years, I wasn’t fazed by going to the Falklands,” he said. “This was my first taste of conflict, but we knew we had an important job to do, so we got on with it.”

After a varied career spanning almost 50 years, Martin has served on every class of RFA ship, from vessels long out of service, to the latest Tide-class tankers. His current ship acts as the command and mother ship for all the Royal Navy’s minehunters operating in the Gulf. 

Chief Petty Officer Chef, Martin Etwell

I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world throughout my 49 years in the RFA. From the Far East to the US and Caribbean, and everywhere in between. I recently made it to Japan, a lifelong ambition!

CPO Etwell

After a varied career spanning almost 50 years, Martin has served on every class of RFA ship, from vessels long out of service, to the latest Tide-class tankers. His current ship acts as the command and mother ship for all the Royal Navy’s minehunters operating in the Gulf.

“My favourite ever ship was RFA Diligence back in 2001. You always knew you were going somewhere on that ship, somewhere new. There were only 50 people on board so the camaraderie was brilliant. It was always a happy ship!”

His career hasn’t been spent entirely at sea, however. Between 2006 and 2010 he passed on his skills and experience at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint, teaching recruits as a chef instructor.     

“This was a whole new challenge for me,” he said. “But seeing people come in the door who were unsure, and then seeing them come out at the end, it was really rewarding to see how they’d grown.”

“Now I even work with one of the recruits who I taught on my very first course!” he added.

At 65 he has no plans on stepping ashore for good just yet.

“I love the job, and I like to be busy,” he said. “I’m not ready to hang up the chef’s whites just yet.

“It’s a good life, camaraderie is great and it gives you a chance to go wherever you want to go, in any direction.”