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Royal Navy veteran dies aged 106

Cdre David Hughes celebrating his 106th birthday
25 June 2021
The Naval family has lost possibly the country’s oldest sailor: Commodore David Hughes, who’s died just short of his 107th birthday.

The New Zealand-born officer was one of the last survivors of the Yalta Conference – where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin drew up plans for post-war Europe – one of many remarkable moments in a 32-year naval career.

David Hughes was born two days before Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, the trigger for World War 1.

He joined the Royal New Zealand Sea Scouts with his twin brother John aged 14 and then the Royal New Zealand Navy as midshipmen.

After sea training with the Swedish Navy aboard the Prince Oregon, a three-mast sailing vessel, the brothers attended Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth for officer training, then on to Collingwood and Excellent for training as gunnery officers.

David was subsequently assigned to motor torpedo-boats and made three trips to Dunkirk during the evacuation as a sub lieutenant, while his twin brother was killed as navigator of a Q ship – used to lure enemy submarines into a trap – which was sunk by the Japanese in the Indian Ocean.

David was a remarkable man with many stories and a very interesting naval career

Neil Pearson of Mexborough RNA

He remained on the Dover Patrol, grappling with German E-boats, supply vessels and coastal batteries and took part in the legendary St Nazaire raid in 1942, suffering a shrapnel wound to the stomach.

Recovered, he served in Normandy and was then assigned to the staff of Winston Churchill as a liaison officer, accompanying the premier to Yalta in 1945.

After a spell on secondment with the US Navy and post-war service with the RN, he joined the MOD… but never disclosed his job due to its secrecy.

He settled in Whiston, near Rotherham, in South Yorkshire and became an active member of the nearby branch of the Royal Naval Association in Mexborough, serving as its president.

Even at the age of 106 he strove to keep in touch with the modern Royal Navy. He was gutted at missing out on a visit to look around flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (aged 105) and similarly hoped to look around the Imperial War Museum, where his medals are held.

A keen harmonica player, he added to his musical portfolio at 106 by taking up yodelling.

“David was a remarkable man with many stories and a very interesting naval career,” said Neil Pearson of Mexborough RNA.

The commodore’s funeral service takes place at Rotherham Crematorium at 11am on June 29 and will be attended by serving RN personnel as well as RNA shipmates.

Veterans and those with connections with the Senior Service are encouraged to attend and celebrate the commodore’s long, remarkable life.

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