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Newbury naval chef set to make history after nearly 50 years at sea

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65-year-old set to enter the record books as the first person in the 115-year history of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to reach the milestone

A Naval chef is on the verge of making history as he approaches 50 years of cooking for fellow sailors and Royal Marines.

Chief petty officer Martin Etwell 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.

Born in Bradfield, he grew up in Beenham and Thatcham and attended Beenham Primary School and Turnpike Secondary school in Newbury. He now resides in the Woolton Hill area.

The 65-year-old, currently serving in the Gulf aboard RFA Cardigan Bay, has spent 49 years working in ships’ 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 while doing a job he would love, he signed up for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as a ‘galley boy’ in May 1971 aged 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 Mr Etwell.

“From the Far East to the US and Caribbean, and everywhere in between.

“I recently made it to Japan, a lifelong ambition.”

He has 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,” said Mr Etwell.

“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, Mr Etwell 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.

He said: “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.”

Mr Etwell’s 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.”

At 65 Mr Etwell 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.

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

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