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Looking out for each other – Thames VTS officers retire on the same day

Ships on the Thames blew their horns to thank two men who have helped keep mariners safe on the river – as they made their last broadcast and retired.

Long-serving VTSO Brian Arterton and VTS supervisor Ray MacLean worked together as A watch at Thames Barrier Navigation Centre (TBNC) in Woolwich, south London, for more than 12 years.

Brian (68) joined us in the early 60s as a fresh-faced 16 year old, becoming a deckboy on tug Westbourne. He eventually became a deckhand, then a leading hand and was also a ship’s mate for a short time. He also drove a dredging crane and was part of the PLA’s now-defunct dredging fleet before leaving for pastures new in the mid-80s. He returned to the PLA fold in 2001 as comms officer, but a few years later became a VTSO at the world-famous barrier where he forged a great working relationship with Ray.

“My job, as part of the VTS team, involved making sure the navigation of river traffic at the Barrier and beyond was safe”, Brian said. “It’s a role I’ve enjoyed very much. We did our final broadcast on VHF, to tell vessels of any movements, from the barrier at 6.15pm.”

Brian says his best memories working for us include helping out at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant in 2012 and being part of the huge security effort that made the London Olympics that same year run so smoothly.

Ray (68), also a Gravesend resident, was Brian’s supervisor and began life with the PLA in 1998 as a duty marine officer. Originally from Inverness in Scotland, he previously worked at the Port of Tilbury and also served in the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy.

He said: “I’ve made so many friends at the PLA and enjoyed the time I shared there, but it was the right time to retire. Getting up at 5am in the morning for work wasn’t as easy as it used to be. And the commute wasn’t getting any easier.

“Working with Brian for so long had its challenges. We were diametrically opposed when it came to politics, but the banter was always good and we’ll remain friends and golf partners. He’s better than me, but don’t tell him that.”

Brian carried on a fine Arterton family tradition of working on the Thames. Dad Arthur was a deckhand and later master on Westbourne, while grandad Ernest was a skipper on the same ship. And son Kelvin remains with the PLA, as deputy VTS manager.

Retirement for Brian will mean spending more time with his family, enjoying one or two Mediterranean cruises with wife Wendy and regularly beating Ray at golf. Ray says he’ll be working on improving his French and pursuing other interests at the University of the Third Age.