Red Ensign hoisted at Newtown

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The colours of the Merchant Navy were flying high over the headquarters of Scottish Borders Council this week as around 20 ex-Merchant Navy personnel from the region were recognised for their services at a civic reception.

The ceremony at Newtown was held to mark Merchant Navy Day, which takes place on September 3 every year to honour the brave men and women who kept Britain afloat during both World Wars, and also celebrate the importance of modern day merchant seafarers.

Amongst those in attendant was Stephen Taylor Smith, a 95-year-old from Selkirk who is believed to be the last surviving member of the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS) which operated during World War II.

He joined the DEMS in 1943 and made a number of voyages across the Atlantic to New York as well as the Mediterranean Sea, serving as a gunner.

It was dangerous occupation, with cargo such as aircraft fuel and ammunition making the DEMS a target for German U-boats, but Stephen successfully completed three years’ service with the branch.

A book on his career and life was published last year by Brian Parker, of Yetholm.

Stephen helped council convener David Parker raise the flag as part of the ceremony.

Councillor Parker said: “I was delighted to be able to host local ex-Merchant Navy personnel and their families and hear some fascinating stories about their time serving their country. Meeting the likes of Stephen Taylor Smith was an honour and I am proud the council will fly the Merchant Navy flag above our Headquarters this week.”

Councillor John Greenwell, SBC’s armed forces and veterans champion, added: “The Merchant Navy has provided an important service for the last century to Britain, providing vital supplies to the country particularly at times of war.

“This ceremony is a small thank you to Borderers who served in the Merchant Navy for their considerable efforts over a number of years.”