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HMS Kent honour legendary stoker Paul’s 40-year career

27 June 2023
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Very worthy of a cake from shipmates and handshake from his Commanding Officer Commander Jez Brettell is Chief Petty Officer Paul Musselwhite.

The chief stoker has completed the rare feat of 40 years in the Royal Navy – from 17-year-old rookie marine engineer to one of the most experienced damage control specialists in the service aged 57.

Shipmates on Kent took time out to recognise his achievement – which includes just short of 5,450 days at sea… nearly 15 whole years on the oceans.

Paul, from Wiltshire, passed through the gates of HMS Raleigh at the end of May 1983 when Spandau Ballet’s True and The Police’s Every Breath You Take were riding high in the charts, the UK was in the grip of an election campaign which would see Mrs Thatcher elected for a second term as prime minister, Roland Rat had recently made his TV debut and Bond fans were gearing up for Roger Moore’s penultimate outing as 007 in Octopussy.

The marine engineer’s subsequent career, mostly with Portsmouth-based ships, is a snapshot of all the RN has done – and how much it has changed – over the past four decades.

His first ship was the unique destroyer HMS Bristol (only one in the class was built) which took him to the Great Lakes and Canada, plus the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans.

He then was transferred to HMS Ark Royal to bring her into service and another trip to the USA, this time to Fleet Week in New York where the carrier’s Harrier jets famously ‘bowed’ to the Statue of Liberty.

Paul served in all three Harrier carriers: Invincible, Illustrious and especially Ark Royal, surviving the bombing of the latter in 1992: an RAF Sea Harrier pilot accidentally dropped a practice bomb on the carrier rather than a towing target; the 28-pounder penetrated the flight deck and eventually exploded in the bowels of the ship wounding half a dozen crew and causing £60k damage.

It’s not the senior rating’s only time in harm’s way. Paul’s a veteran of the first Gulf War (1990-91), the Bosnia and Kosovo campaigns, enforcing the southern no-fly zone over Iraq (1991-2003) and helped evacuate British citizens from Libya during the North African nation’s civil war.

He’s enjoyed two patrols of the Falklands with HMS York, at least one Christmas in Rio, six months in the Baltic with frigate HMS Iron Duke (and three successive appearances at Kiel Week).

And he finally got further than east than Singapore after 39 years with HMS Kent as she accompanied HMS Queen Elizabeth’s carrier group to the Pacific Rim in 2021.

In between there have been a string of jobs ashore (Portsmouth Naval Base, Gibraltar, an instructor in damage control at HMS Excellent and teaching welding/cutting to future marine engineers at HMS Sultan).

And there’s been the odd run ashore (the first Ponta Delgada in the Azores, the most recent Stavanger in Norway with Paul recommending pretty much anywhere in the USA as his favourite visits, alongside Jamaica, Majorca, Gdynia (Poland), Kiel, Gibraltar and Malta.

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