U-boat attack survivor who spent 10 days on a life-raft dies aged 95

A second World War sailor who survived ten days on a life- raft after a devastating torpedo attack on his cargo ship has died at the age of 95.

Douglas Henderson, a former Merchant Navy seaman, was one of 31 members of the crew of the Canadian Pacific ship Beaverdale who were rescued by an Icelandic trawler in the North Atlantic during the conflict.

The last survivor of the assault by two German submarines, his remarkable story was featured in 1999 in a Noel Edmonds Christmas Day television special when the presenter arranged for the veteran to be reunited with Haldor Gislingson, the skipper of the Icelandic fishing boat, for the first time since the ship went down in 1941.

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Mr Henderson, from Nether Kinmundy, near Boddam in Aberdeenshire, said at the time: “It was very emotional, especially after wondering for all those years who the man was who saved my life.

“I feel a huge load has been lifted off my shoulders after all this time, but I don’t want it to be a personal affair.

“This is a tribute to all the merchant seamen who lost their lives during the war.”

Mr Gislingson, who was aged 100, died a week after the emotional reunion.

Mr Henderson met his Belgian wife, Marriette, while he was stationed in Antwerp in Belgium, when he and his colleagues were given permission to join the locals in their VE Day celebrations in May 1945.

The couple stayed in Antwerp for two years before Mr Henderson decided to end his career as a seafarer.

Mr and Mrs Henderson then moved to Cheltenham in Essex where they worked for ten years as joint managers of a sports club before moving to the North-east of Scotland when they retired.

Four years ago, when the couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, Mr Henderson recalled how they met. He said: “As we headed for the Town Hall, the place was heaving with overjoyed Belgians and I was pushed into a shop window. I very nearly collapsed but Marriete saved me and we got talking.

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“I originally thought she was English as her grasp of the language was so good. I suppose you could say I fell for her straight away.”

The war veteran remained a staunch supporter of the Merchant Navy and for the past 16 years had persuaded Aberdeenshire Council to fly the Red Ensign above its Buchan headquarters in Peterhead’s Broad Street on 3 September, Merchant Navy Day.

Merchant Navy Day commemorates the sinking of the Athenia, which was attacked by a German U-boat in 1939 off the west coast of Scotland on her way to Canada with more than 1,000 people on board.

A total of 98 passengers and 19 crew on board the vessel were killed in the attack.

Mr Henderson’s daughter, Michelle, said she hoped the local authority would keep up the tradition her father had worked so hard to maintain.

“The flag was placed over dad’s coffin for his funeral service, but it will be stored away and hopefully the council will continue to fly it on Merchant Navy Day,” she said. “It’s certainly what he would have wanted.”

Mr Henderson, who was also a former chairman of the Peterhead OAP Club, was an active fundraiser for the British Sailors’ Society and 11 years ago he was one of three men chosen to lead the Merchant Navy and fishing fleet delegation at the prestigious Festival of Remembrance.

It is understood the invite came from the Queen Mother.