Martin’s magnificent maritime service merits Merchant Navy medal

Topic: Fighting armsRoyal Auxiliary Fleet Storyline: Success Stories

With an astonishing 52 years’ service under his belt, there was Royal recognition for the outstanding contribution Chief Petty Officer Martin Etwell has made to the RFA.

The chef is now one of only a handful of serving members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary whose uniform is adorned with the Merchant Navy Medal for Meritorious Service, presented by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal.

The medal, introduced in 2015, is presented to between a dozen and 20 merchant seafarers – and that includes the 1,700 men and women in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary – for their outstanding contribution to the maritime industry and seafaring.

To date only four other – two serving, two retired – RFA personnel have received the MNM for their work with the service and its association.

Martin, who’s from Newbury in Berkshire, joined the RFA in 1971 as a galley boy. Half a century later, as a chief petty officer, he’s one of the most respected chefs in the UK Armed Forces, passing on his knowledge to new cadres of Royal Navy and RFA caterers, and acting as a mentor to RFA trainees at the Defence College of Logistics, Policing and Administration at Worthy Down, near Winchester.

Before stepping ashore to teach, Martin served on every class of RFA vessel in service up to the new Tide-class tankers which support UK carrier operations.

He was in the galley of RFA Fort Austin during the Falklands conflict, accompanying assault ship HMS Fearless into San Carlos Water when the landings to liberate the islands began. Fort The ship spent four days in ‘Bomb Alley’, surviving several near masses and subsequently took survivors from destroyer HMS Coventry aboard.

In 2020 he was serving aboard RFA Cardigan Bay, command ship for Royal Navy minehunters in the Gulf, conducting patrols during a period of heightened regional tensions.

When the fridges of the minehunters failed, it was his skill, expertise and calmness based on his years of experience which kept the task force fed, provided with fresh water and stores – and, most importantly, on its mission, rather than being forced to return to port for repairs.

Martin frequently helps shape both his branch and the future of the RFA by advising senior officers with an appreciation of logistics and catering unrivalled by anyone in his branch.

He also somehow finds time to assist and coach new recruits who benefit enormously from his expert tuition and mentors those on his course who need extra support.

Those trainees have often gone on to take the ‘top student’ title at Worthy Down and serve award-winning military catering teams.
Martin’s efforts have already been recognised as Chef of the Year in 2011 and 2019 by the Worshipful Company of Cooks.

Approved by the Queen in 2015, the Merchant Navy Medal for Meritorious Service is presented to those who have served at sea in any capacity in the Merchant Navy or fishing fleets for at least 20 years during which they have made an important contribution.

“It is a great honour to receive this prestigious award and I am very grateful to the RFA for my nomination,” Martin said.

This year’s recipients were decorated by the Princess Royal at Trinity House in London in the presence of the Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper.