Tribute to Stevenage man who was lost at sea after being swept overboard on cruise ship

PUBLISHED: 08:30 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:02 04 September 2018

Graham Whitehead on board SS Chusan. Picture courtesy of Douglas Whitehead.

Graham Whitehead on board SS Chusan. Picture courtesy of Douglas Whitehead.

Archant

A memorial service to commemorate the lives of those who have been lost at sea has paid tribute to a man from Stevenage.

Graham Whitehead on his wedding day. Picture courtesy of Douglas Whitehead.Graham Whitehead on his wedding day. Picture courtesy of Douglas Whitehead.

The annual service in Southampton, which has been running for the past 20 years, took place on Sunday and was attended by members of the Royal Naval Association and The Merchant Navy Association.

Among those remembered was Graham Bastin Whitehead, who lived in Stevenage and was the chief officer aboard SS Oronsay on a Mediterranean cruise when he went overboard on August 30, 1966.

The ship had been sailing through Greek waters in the North Aegean sea, heading towards the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, when he was alerted at about 2am to an urgent problem with an outboard gangway.

His son, Douglas, said: “The gangway’s bottom footing had come loose and was battering the side of the vessel in a storm.

A model of SS Oronsay, where the outboard gangways can be easily seen. Picture courtesy of Douglas Whitehead.A model of SS Oronsay, where the outboard gangways can be easily seen. Picture courtesy of Douglas Whitehead.

“Normally when rough weather was expected, outboard gangways would have been stowed away to prevent this, but the weather conditions had deteriorated unexpectedly.

“Safe operation of the ship was my father’s key responsibility.

“During an inquiry it was stated that my father stepped out onto the top part of the outboard gangway for a preliminary inspection, but a wave hit part of the gangway, engulfing him.

“A man overboard signal was given, lifebuoys were dropped and search boats lowered at 2.29am. My father’s body was never found.”

Graham was just 39 years old when he was lost at sea.

Douglas, who now lives in Australia – his mother’s home country – said: “I am told he was held in high regard by his crew and colleagues.

“My father had regularly sailed to Australia throughout the 1950s and 1960s on the Oronsay, as well as several other vessels, until the liner trade started to reduce.

“In those days, duty tours were usually between three and six months away from home and I had grown used to his long absences.”

Douglas attended Sunday’s memorial service, which took place at Holyrood Church in Southampton.

The church was bombed during the Second World War and the ruins are now a Merchant Navy memorial and are Grade II listed.

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