Obituary: Captain David Berry; ‘mariner’ spent his life at sea – in the Merchant Navy and as tanker captain

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Born: 21 February, 1930, in Camelon, near Falkirk. Died: 22 April, 2012, in Polmont, aged 82.

Like every child of the village of Camelon, David Berry was known as a “mariner”. It was an early and prophetic nickname for a man would spend his entire working life at sea.

Dating back to its days as a bustling shipping port on the Forth and Clyde Canal, the local term epitomised the youngster who joined the Merchant Navy at 17, captained the Denholm Line’s largest tanker and, as a pilot, went on to help countless vessels safely navigate the River Forth.

He also regularly sailed the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals as a founding member of Falkirk’s Seagull Trust branch, a charity providing free cruises for passengers with special needs.

The middle child of three, his family moved when he was a schoolboy from Camelon to Old Town Grangemouth, where his father was a Forth tug boat engineer. Educated at Zetland Primary and Grangemouth High, the young David was determined to take up a seafaring life and after gaining his leaving certificate he joined the Merchant Navy, working for the Newcastle-based shipping line Huntings.

But it wasn’t the end of his studies – he took up his books whilst at sea and attended various study programmes at Glasgow’s Nautical College when he came home on leave. Passing all of his exams, he moved up the ladder from second mate, to first mate, becoming master in 1957, while he was still in his 20s.

A large part of his career at sea was spent with the Denholm Shipping line where he was appointed master of the Naess Seafarer, the youngest captain to take command of what was, at that time, the line’s largest tanker. His job took him all over the world and he was often accompanied on the long voyages by his wife Sheena and their elder daughter Dorothy. However he did find he once had to turn his hand to a different line of work – as a midwife – when he ended up delivering their younger daughter Gail, who put in an appearance at home just after the midwife had left on her bike.

After 17 years with the Denholm line, he took up the invitation to become a pilot on the River Forth, a career move that allowed him to spend more time with his family. He and Sheena first met at primary school and married in Grangemouth, in March 1957, but only after numerous postponements – thanks to the Suez Crisis, which had delayed the groom.

During his time working on the Forth he became Grangemouth pilot representative for Forth Ports Authority and achieved a unique record of serving in the post for three consecutive three-year terms.

He was involved in the negotiations when the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Pilotage Act endeavoured to change the whole system of pilotage and he and his colleagues spotted a sub-clause, which enabled them to remain self-employed, as generations before them had been. He also served on the Pilotage Authority, interviewing and examining new pilots.

A well-earned retirement began in 1992, when he was able to devote more time to his family as well as his varied leisure pursuits which included reading, crosswords and writing poetry. He particularly enjoyed penning graces and wrote the toasts in verse for both daughters’ weddings.

He was a member of Grangemouth Golf Club, as well as an enthusiastic swimmer, taking a dip early each morning at the local swimming pool and a loyal support of Grangemouth Rotary Club, which he joined in 1978 and he which he served as president in 1985.

Sailing also continued to be a part of his life as a volunteer with the Seagull Trust, regularly manning the Govan Seagull barge.

He is survived by his survived by his wife Sheena, daughters Dorothy and Gail and grandchildren Jon, Jamie, Ami and Fraser.

ALISON SHAW