Donald Sands of Marsh Harbour holds the distinction of being the only remaining war veteran from Abaco still living today. This is a very fitting time to honour Mr Sands since November is Remembrance Month when all Commonwealth countries honour their war veterans.
Not only does Mr. Sands hold the distinction of having served his country in the war and returned to live a long life of ninety years but he also entered life in a very auspicious way. He arrived into this world on June 17, 1924, on a boat in Hope Town Harbour. His father made his living on a boat and was returning from a trip when he picked up his wife from Guana Cay to take her into Marsh Harbour. But Donald could not wait and came into this world on the boat.
He was number four of seven children.
At the age of 11 his father decided to seek work in Nassau where there was more prosperity and so at the age of 11 years Donald moved with his parents to the Capital and attended Sacred Heart School. After leaving school at the mandatory age of 14 he joined the telecommunications company as a messenger boy.
When the Second World War broke out, Mr. Sands used to listen to the war news on the radio and decided that he wanted to do something to help.
“I went to my mates and suggested that they come with me, and six of us went together,” he remembers. “The Colonial Secretarial Office paid our way to Canada where we joined a Royal Navy ship for a week long crossing to Liverpool, England. Once there we were transferred to a naval base in Liverpool.”
After five or six months of training Mr. Sands was put on a ship and was very sad that he had to leave all his buddies behind since no one was put on that ship with him. His first trip was in convoy carrying freight to Murmansk, Russia. He held the position of engineer and Second Gunner in action. His time in the Royal Navy was spent in convoy which he said he enjoyed because he felt that he was doing his part in helping the war effort.
“The only real active-duty I experienced when danger existed was during a convoy to Russia when our ship was intercepted by Germans. We fought for almost a complete day and sank one ship. We knew the ship had sunk because we saw parts begin to float. On several other occasions enemy planes flew over but never attacked. On one occasion we did have a lucky escape. We were in Russia and the captain received word to proceed to a certain point but because preparations were not finalized we were delayed and so another ship was sent to replace us. That ship got sunk but we left four or five hours later and were safe.”
During one convoy, the ship Mr. Sands was on passed right alongside Hope Town. When the captain told Mr. Sands where they were he jokingly asked if he could jump overboard and swim ashore but of course never did.
At the end of the war, Mr. Sands returned to the Bahamas in 1945 and rejoined the telecommunications in Nassau for a short period.
“I was very glad to be home and see my mum and dad and brothers and sisters,” he says. About 30 years ago he returned to Abaco where he has resided ever since. “For the first 8 to 10 years after the war I would wake up at night hearing the voice of the captain shouting ‘action stations’ which would set my heart pounding,” remembers Mr. Sands.
“Every year on Remembrance Day I think of all of my friends with whom I served in the war especially those who have gone on. I made some really good friends,” he says.
Mr. Sands is very proud and glad that he did his part during the Second World War serving in the British Royal Navy from 1939 to 1945.