Edinburgh Gulf War sailor who battled Ebola ends fearless 40-year career

An Edinburgh sailor who clashed with Saddam Hussein and joined the fight against Ebola in Africa is set to regain his legs after nearly 40 years of supporting fellow Royal Navy colleagues around the world.

Former Chief Officer David Gatenby opted for a life at sea to follow in Father Terry’s footsteps in 1982 as a member of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) service and supported humanitarian and military operations across the world before to retire to spend time with his family in April.

The 61-year-old, from Currie, entered the conflict alongside his brother Chris during the First Gulf War in 1991 and organized talks between rebel and government forces over RFA Sir Galahad during a mission peacekeeping mission to end a bloody civil war in Angola in a career that spanned four decades.

Reflecting on his eclectic and “intimidating” career, David joked that he was “slightly more exciting” than his initial plans to become a hotel manager, adding that it was an experience he “wouldn’t change for nothing. in the world “.

“It’s definitely varied and at times extremely intimidating,” said David.

“My father was a navigation officer in the FRG until 1960 and my older brother completed his university studies and entered the FRG directly.

“I went through Telford College and didn’t really like what I was doing in the hospitality business, so I decided to give it a try for a few years because I already had a taste for it.

“Almost 40 years later, I stayed a little longer than that. But I loved every minute of it. I don’t regret it at all, it was a unique experience and I wouldn’t change a thing.

David was among a small group of navy and FRG personnel not deployed to the Falklands conflict when he began with the service in 1982, although he admitted it was a “worrying” time. with Chris involved thousands of miles away.



The RFA Argus on which David carried out humanitarian work to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone. (Photo: David Gatenby)

Instead, it was deployed to protect British interests in the Gulf as the war developed in the South Atlantic.

However, the scars of that conflict followed him when he returned for the Gulf War alongside British troops opposed to Saddam Hussein nine years later on the RFA Sir Galahad – the second ship to bear that name after the sinking. from the first to Fitzroy with the loss of 48 lives.

“Deep inside I was thinking of the omens of being on a ship with this name while going to war,” he said.

“But it was hard. You join something, any department, hoping it will never happen to you and that’s how we got away with it.

“There was that expectation, and that’s exactly what we did. Being with Chris too, we had a brother-in-arms mentality. Fortunately, we both made it home safe and sound.



David while deployed to the Gulf War in 1991 aboard RFA Sir Galahad.  (Photo: David Gatenby)
David while deployed to the Gulf War in 1991 aboard RFA Sir Galahad. (Photo: David Gatenby)

David said the subsequent humanitarian efforts in war-torn Angola and Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone have proven to be highlights despite the often terrifying situations he has faced.

However, he recalled being on the ground helping locals and international agencies rebuild during times of disaster as some of his most uplifting experiences, earning a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service. in the process.

He said: “In Angola we had a meeting between the rebels and government forces on the ship and when they all arrived it was like Rambo.

“Everyone was armed, everyone had a handgun, they had a machine gun, it was pretty tight.

“But the consequence of this situation was that we were able to build a school, we were able to restore water and electricity with the help of the British army.



David said he now looks forward to spending more time with his family.
David said he now looks forward to spending more time with his family.

“Likewise in Sierra Leone, our ship, RFA Argus, was part of a hospital with facilities matching those of the NHS, so we were able to bring help to people who really needed it.

“With all the different forces that were there, we were able to make the difference, it was the part of the job that I loved the most, making a difference, it was the memories that really marked me.

“They made me proud to have chosen and lived the life I have made.”

David said he was now looking forward to spending time at his home in Broxburn, West Lothian, but looked back fondly on his time in the FRG.

“With Covid, it seemed like the right time to walk away,” he said.

“I am proud of the work I have done and now I only focus on spending time with my family.

“Maybe once the pandemic is over I can take a vacation, but I hope it will be a little less hectic than my previous trips abroad.”


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