The Federation of
Merchant Mariners
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Dear Editor

What Medal Ribbons?

With reference to Captain Peter Goodwin’s experience (Summer 2011 edition – ‘Called Up?’) what happened to me may be of interest.

1n 1943, aged 17 1/4, I received notification that on attaining the age of 18 my war service was to be down a coal-mine as a Bevin Boy!  However, at 17 ½  I went to sea as an apprentice with Elder Dempster and later a cadet with Blue Star.

In December 1946, aged 20, I arrived home from Rangoon, my sea-time complete, and took my second mater’s ticket in London.  However, I decided not to return to sea immediately as I was courting my future wife and took a job as a temporary, unqualified teacher – my father and half-sister were teachers and it was assumed I would follow in their footsteps.

In May 1947, aged 21, I received my calling-up papers for National Service, and on asking what this was about was told that as I had failed to turn up for Bevin Boy duty, these being no longer needed, I was to go into the army.

I wrote to the department concerned presuming that when issued with my uniform there would be no objection to my putting on my medal ribbons?  They replied asking ‘what medal ribbons?’ – the 1939/48 Star, Atlantic Star, Pacific Star and War Medal, I replied.  They asked me how had I come by these and I said that they must have been well aware of my being in the Merchant Navy since October 1943 and told them that, having attended the Merchant Navy Gunnery school at Shoeburyness I had been in charge of three 20mm Oerlikon guns, firing one myself and finding five volunteers from the crew, two to fire the guns and three to act as loaders of the 99-round magazines.

There followed a period of some six weeks silence, then I received a letter confirming my liability for National /Service but stating that “in your particular circumstances you will not be called”.

In the event, shortly afterwards my fiancée having been posted to Nanking in China for 3 years, I returned to sea, serving in Shell tankers, and with Jardine Matheson on the China coast until, late in 1950, aged 24, I married her in Hong Kong and swallowed the anchor to become, not a teacher, but a Chartered Accountant.

John Burston
Surrey