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“I was born 5th October 1927 in Annfield Plain, a village in County Durham. Actually, that’s not quite true. I was born in the ambulance. It had to stop in a place called Norwood. My full name is Derek Norwood Richards.
My father sent me to Durham School when I was 13. A marvellous school. I didn’t realise it at the time but I will never forget it. I didn’t do very well, but I have the greatest admiration for the school now. I was quite a good sportsman, enthusiastic anyway, but I didn’t have the confidence that people have at these schools.
I coxed the rowing team and played cricket, but not in the firsts, because I wasn’t the type. In fact, I’m not sure I succeeded across my time at Durham School simply because I wasn’t the type. What I was good at was getting on with people.”
‘’I was only at Durham School for a couple of years, until I was 15. Then I went to sea. All my life I’d wanted to go to sea, because I’d read a lot about merchant ships. It was 1942 – the middle of the war. I went on Oil Tankers, had to work my way up from the bottom, literally: they sent me down into the depths to clean the oil in the tanks. I was not a particularly clever seaman. I had to work at it. But I was quite popular, because I could be relied upon to get things done.”
“I met Sheila in the West Indies. Her father was a timber merchant who’d travelled to the West Indies with his wife and daughter and I was touring out there at the time. When I came back to England we spent my Leave together. And thereafter, we spent pretty well every Leave together. Once we’d met we never parted. She was clever – much cleverer than I was, no doubt about that. When I got my Master’s Ticket, she was able to travel with me on the ships. We saw the world together.
I left the merchant navy in 1961. I never went back to sea. We had three daughters and ran a post office and shop in an isolated village in the Lincolnshire Fens. But I’ll never forget the sea.”
Derek, 89. Old Dunelmian. Master Mariner.
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