Cenotaph honour for ‘boy sailor’ from Huddersfield

BLIND war veteran Derek Stead, who joined the Merchant Navy at 16, has spoken of his service after taking part in the march past the Cenotaph in London.

Derek Stead.

The 88-year-old from Huddersfield joined over 100 other blind and vision impaired veterans as part of the Blind Veterans UK contingent.

Mr Stead recalled joining up in 1942.

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“I was a young man and was fed up with all the blackouts and air raids, so I decided to join the Forces and get out there.

“The Merchant Navy was the only one I was able to join, but it wasn’t an easy option; the Merchant Service had the highest percentage of casualties of all the Services, so it was hugely dangerous.”

As well as the vital work of carrying supplies, the Merchant Navy was also involved in troop landings in the Mediterranean.

“The ship I was on helped transport the 8th Army from their campaign in North Africa to the invasion of Sicily. The worst part of the landings was always the bit beforehand. No one was allowed to smoke or talk and it was incredibly tense.

“We would arrive at Palermo beach and instantly there’d be gunfire, rockets and goodness knows what else. At times I never thought I’d see another sunset.”

“A few months after that, I was stationed at the Suez Canal and we had a midnight service on Christmas Eve which was one of the most memorable parts of my service. Everyone was dressed in white, we sang English Christmas carols and ate mince pies. To go from the death and destruction we saw in the Mediterranean to that calm, quiet moment was really quite something.”

Since 2008, he has received free support from Blind Veterans UK to help him live independently with sight loss.

“It’s a great honour to represent Blind Veterans UK on the march,” he said.