Honouring our debt to war sailors

THEY risked their lives to keep the troops well stocked and their families well fed at home, but their efforts have until now been largely overlooked.

Presentations to honour the service and sacrifice of merchant seafarers were held at the City Chambers yesterday.

Eight former merchant seamen were presented with The United Kingdom Merchant Seafarers Veteran's Badge, awarded to those who served on a commercial vessel while in support of military operations.

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Among the former seamen who received a medal was Alexander Blue, 84, who grew up on Rankeillor Street and now lives in Stenhouse.

Mr Blue served on Russian convoys during the Second World War. He said: "We were bombed almost constantly but we were never sunk. Sailing through bombs isn't very pleasant, to say the least, but you sort of got used to it."

Life as a merchant seaman after the war also wasn't without its perils, as Captain Bill Kitching, 75, who lives in Willowbrae, attested: "I used to transport nuclear waste that was created in the construction of UK's nuclear arsenal in the late 1960s.

"We were quite apprehensive about transporting such a dangerous cargo but you didn't choose your vessels. I'm still here, though, so it must have been safe enough."

Yesterday's ceremony was led by Derek Bristow, chief executive of the Federation of Merchant Mariners, and Lord Provost George Grubb.

Mr Grubb received a Merchant Marine tie, and Lady Provost Elizabeth Grubb was presented with Merchant Seafarers Veteran's Badge in honour of her father, a chief engineer locked up in a Japanese PoW camp when his vessel ran aground in Indonesia.

Mr Bristow said the award to members of the merchant navy and fishing fleets was "very special indeed". He added: "Whilst many thousands of badges have been awarded, we feel sure that there are still many seafarers not aware that they may qualify."

This is the official "Year of the Seafarer" and Scotland's Merchant Searfarers are set to get a new memorial in Leith to the 6,500 Scots who have died at sea on commercial vessels, to be unveiled in November.