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David Henderson


David Henderson, who died on 20 June 2015, lived a full and adventurous life, seeing the world both during and after his 22 years’ service in the Royal Navy.  He reached a dramatic turning point when, at the age of 25, he experienced a religious conversion that guided his actions for the rest of his life.  He wrote a fascinating autobiography which he published in 2009  and which provides most of the information for this obituary.

David Henderson, boy seaman, aged 15

David was born in 1934 and grew up in Carshalton.  At the start of World War Two, he and his eight-year-old sister went to stay with their paternal grandparents in Methil, Fife. They returned to Carshalton in 1941 and became accustomed to air-raids sirens, nights in shelters, and the houses wrecked by German bombs.  He was evacuated again in 1943, this time to Staffordshire, but returned once again to be with his parents, V1s or no V1s.

In 1948, at the age of 15, David enlisted in the Royal Navy. He survived the usual bullying and naval punishments and became a trainee seaman on HMS Vanguard, the navy’s largest and last battleship. After three years spent mostly at sea he was posted to the naval barracks at Portsmouth.  It was while there that he met and married his wife June.  His marriage had an inauspicious start when, against his protests, he was dispatched on a year-long round-the-world trip on the aircraft carrier Bulwark.

It was during a stop in Aden that David underwent his religious conversion.  He described how, while he was on the Bulwark’s flight deck, he experienced a vision of Jesus dying on the cross against a deep-blue night sky. “A deep inside peace and joy suddenly became mine.” From that moment his decisions were made in the context of what Jesus – his “hero” - would hope and expect of him as he adjusted to a “living faith and new life”.

David left the navy in 1960 and trained as a radio and tv engineer. By then he and June had two sons, Gary and David.  Soon afterwards David embarked on two years’ missionary training in Birmingham and was then posted to the Seychelles to help start a missionary radio station.  While there he and June had three more children: Mark, followed by twins Christine and Amanda.  The family of seven returned to the UK in 1970.  After a spell of unemployment, David became a part-time reporter for Radio London and then helped arrange a tour for the US evangelist Billy Graham, meeting celebrities such as Cliff Richard and Johnny Cash.

David next embarked on a remarkable missionary trip, under the aegis of the RBMU organisation, to Nepal and Papua New Guinea. Once back in Britain David travelled widely before the family settled in Welling, Kent, where he became a church pastor. But he was still away from home at lot and his marriage suffered, ending in divorce in 1986.  He was acutely depressed and came close to suicide before finding reassurance and inspiration once again in his religious beliefs.

David next worked for a Christian radio station and then became a financial advisor and salesman for Liberty Life, followed by a lengthy spell in the private health sector. He went to live in Crystal Palace and then in Penge and while there became an early member of the Croydon Male Voice Choir, which he records as having “about fifteen members”.  He found a new spiritual base at St John’s Church and also met Hazel Willson – a fellow singer, with the Croydon Philharmonic Choir: “   a very special lady,” he wrote, “with a remarkable quality of character”.

David in 2010

David and Hazel, together with two friends, set up a children’s hospice charity shop in Penge, Little Ones. It became a refuge and outlet for choir members who had to dispose of goods when downsizing, and David was invariably a cheerful presence to greet them.  Members also remember him as quiet, generous and unassuming. 

David fell ill in 2013 and finally had to retire from both the choir and the shop at Christmas 2014.  He knew he did not have long to live but remained remarkably positive and cheerful, in keeping with the final words of his autobiography: “I look forward to the next life with my hero.”

His funeral was held on 7 July followed by a Thanksgiving service at St John’s, Penge, attended by some 200 people, including a large contingent from the choir.


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