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London Gazette
Tuesday  15th August 1944

Awarded the British Empire Medal
Civil Division

William Best, Greaser
William Joseph Burns, Greaser
Ronald Nunn, Ordinary Seaman
Leonard White, Able Seaman

The Citation Reads

"In the early part of 1943 the Melbourne Star, sailing alone, was attacked in darkness. Two torpedoes hit the ship and she sank almost immediately. There was no time to launch the boats but a number of rafts floated clear. Although efforts were made by the survivors on one raft to rescue others, only four of the crew were eventually rescued, after being adrift on a raft for 38 days.
Able Seaman White, Greaser Burns, Greaser Best and Ordinary Seaman Nunn all displayed outstanding qualities of courage, fortitude and endurance which enabled them to survive the hardship and perils of the long and hazardous ordeal on the raft".

The Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service is usually referred to as the British Empire Medal. Together with the Empire Gallantry Medal it was instituted in December 1922 replacing the earlier Medal of the Order of the British Empire. The medal is awarded for meritorious service to both civil and military personnel. The medal is struck in silver and is issued named in engraved capitals around the edge.

When the Melbourne Star was sunk, the seaman’s pay stopped on the day of the sinking. They did not receive any more pay until they joined another ship. The seaman were given 30 days survivor’s leave, dated from the day their ship was sunk. This leave was unpaid. It only meant that they didn’t have to report back to the pool for 30 days. The 38 days spent on the life raft, hopelessly and desperately adrift in the Atlantic, was counted as the survivor’s leave.

Liverpool Echo Wed. 14th July 1943
The story of their days on the raft as told by survivor
William Best
 of Birkenhead, Port Adelaide Australia

With fishing-hooks made from tin-openers and lines made from unwrapped rope three Englishmen and an Australian of the Merchant Navy caught fish to supplement emergency rations of biscuits, chocolate and meat extract tablets so that they were able to survive thirty-nine days on a small raft in the South Atlantic after the torpedoing of their ship. On the 39th day they were seen by an American flying-boat and taken aboard in the plane’s rubber dinghy. They were immediately flown to hospital in the Bermudas and they have arrived back in England ready to sail again after a short spell of shore leave.

'Walked Off’ Ship'

He, William Best, was in bed when the torpedo hit the ship. It received a second torpedo and the ship tilted at such an angle that he was ‘able to walk off’ into the sea. He swam through the debris to a raft which he was lucky to find in the inky darkness. When daylight came he saw another raft close by with three men on it. They pulled towards each other and it was decided to use his raft for the four of them. There was another raft apparently with seven men on it in the distance. They never saw this raft again after the first day. Their only protection on the raft against the blazing heat of the day and the biting cold at night, with often blustering rain squalls, was a tent rigged up from a sail.

'Fish Melted In The Mouth'
We had three meals a day of one biscuit, one piece of milk chocolate, two meat extract tablets and two ounces of water from a 20 gallon cask. Our diet began to affect us and then we had some luck. Len White, an AB from the Birmingham District, caught a small fish with his hands. He was soon making a fish-hook from a tin-opener and a line from a piece of rope he untwisted. The first two days we caught all kinds of fish and there was one fish about a foot or so long and dark looking, which when opened up ‘melted in the mouth’. Our health improved miraculously on the fish courses.

Off to Bermuda
On the 39th day Ronald Nunn yelled that he was sure there was a plane above and then a flying-boat began to circle overhead, obviously having seen us, and landed on the sea close by. An American Lieutenant came to us in the planes rubber dinghy and when he said ‘Where are you guys from?’ we just told him we were British. We offered him the fish that we’d caught that day. They were our most prized possession. They made us most comfortable on the flying-boat and whipped us away to the Bermudas where they put us immediately into hospital. We were flying a couple of hours or more and ambulances were all ready for us when the plane landed. The fourth man on the raft was Bill Burns. ‘I reckon we have all more or less recovered now’.

The above report from the Liverpool Echo was kindly sent in by
 Douglas Arnold - 2nd cousin to
Stanley Rippon - Senior 4th Engineer Officer
Sadly lost when the Melbourne Star was torpedoed and sunk.

Able Seaman Leonard Henry White BEM
of Surrey England UK

After the war Leonard emigrated to Sydney, Australia where he remained until his death in 1995 aged 75

This man was the leader of the group and was responsible for the intelligent planning of rations and morale of his shipmates which was excellent at all times.

During the Second World War 1939 - 1945 Leonard White served as an Able Seaman in the Merchant Navy Fleet. Sailing from his home port of Liverpool, his ships journeyed in the hazardous shipping lanes of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans moving vital supplies in support of the war effort. It was at this time two of his ships were torpedoed and sunk by enemy action, the Norman Prince - 'Prince Line' in 1942 and the Melbourne Star - 'Blue Star Line' in 1943.

Ordinary Seaman Ronald Nunn BEM
of London England UK

Recuperating at the 'U.S. Naval  Mobile  Hospital No 1'  ~ Bermuda

Sadly, Ordinary Seaman Ronald Nunn did not survive to receive his award. Aged 19, he lost his life by enemy action whilst serving in SS Dungrange when, on the 10th June 1944, the vessel, heading for the Normandy Beaches with a cargo of ammunition and fuel oil, was torpedoed and sunk by a German E-Boat close to the French coast .
Tower Hill Memorial Panel 36.

(Picture courtesy  Julia Nunn ~ Ronald's Great Niece)

Greaser, William Best BEM
of Birkenhead, Port Adelaide, Australia

Recuperating at the 'U.S. Naval  Mobile  Hospital No 1'  ~ Bermuda

William was from Clydebank in Scotland and from an early age joined the merchant navy. His family moved to South Australia around 1925. After the war William returned to Birkenhead,  South Australia where on the 9th May 1945 he was presented with his British Empire Medal by The Governor of South Australia in Adelaide. He continued his career at sea spending most of his working life with the Australian Merchant Navy, mainly on coastal ships.

William Best
  Died Peacefully
7th June 1969
Aged 64

(Picture courtesy Julia Nunn)

Greaser, William Joseph Burns BEM
of Liverpool UK

No Further Information

I would be pleased to hear from any family member or friend of William to enable completion of this section.

Contact can be made using my email address found on the 'Home Page'.

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