Obituary: Major Donald Henderson

MEN SUCH as Donald Henderson are always rightly referred to as bomb disposal experts - they have to be expert if they are to survive.

The profession is relatively new. In the Great War bombs were fairly simple and most exploded on impact; it was not until the Second World War that the race began between experts in delayed action fuses. The Admiralty eschewed the phrase as long as possible; in 1940 and 1941, mines were rendered safe and RMS (Rendering Mines Safe) officers only gradually turned to bombs; disposal of the arisings was assumed. By the time that Henderson emerged with the post-war members of his trade, Nato was grappling with its linguistics, and "unexploded ordnance disposal" became the order of the day.

Henderson was awarded the George Medal for his disarming of the Marsham Street bomb in 1975, placed outside Lockett's Restaurant in Westminster where several MPs were dining. He disarmed the bomb, consisting of 25lb of explosive accommodating several pounds of coach bolts, with less than four minutes to spare (though he did not know how much time he had).

Henderson perhaps deserved a higher honour: he was congratulated by the judge at the trial of the terrorist group known as the Balcombe Street Gang; there had also been the Christmas of 1974, during which season of peace and goodwill he was called to 72 incidents in eight days. And in 1971 he had dealt with a bomb secured beneath Lady Beaverbrook's car, where it had been intended to explode as the heating-up exhaust pipe fired a simple charge.

He survived not one but two hectic careers and then enjoyed 20 years of retirement, albeit often interrupted when his advice was needed. He was born in 1921 into an army family stationed at Dover, where he went to the local grammar school. In 1937 he joined the Territorial Army, serving in the Royal Engineers throughout the war from 1939 to 1945, finally in Burma and then in occupied Germany. It was then that he specialised in the techniques of ammunition and was commissioned into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps; his skills took him to troublesome places like Aden, Cyprus and Korea.

At home his increasing experience of the criminal use of explosives in safe blowing commended him to the police; his accumulation and presentation of evidence was of great importance in securing several convictions, and it was suggested that after 17 years in the post-war Army, he might consider moving "to the aid of the civil power". Accordingly he resigned his commission in 1964 and, with a contemporary, Major Geoffrey Biddle, became a civil servant, Head of the new C7(2) Branch of the Metropolitan Police, one of its most enlightened and successful appointments. There he was to serve for another 17 years. Biddle was also to receive the George Medal, for defusing a bomb beneath the ministerial car of another ex-serviceman, Edward Heath.

Henderson's increasing technical knowledge and its skilled application were much in demand. He was a regular lecturer to the American FBI and to sundry elements in the Ministry of Defence and other government departments; he supervised the security cover of the wedding of the Prince of Wales.

He was a quiet, reserved man, of only faintly military bearing despite his clipped moustache and properly polished shoes. In plain clothes, civilian raincoat and with a worn but treasured briefcase, the man who spent much time verifying references in the London Gazette in the Public Record Office at Kew appeared to be just another researcher.

But his experiences sustained several books, including one on the honours and awards of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. There was a general history of the GM, Dragons Can Be Defeated: a complete record of the George Medal's progress 1940-1983 (1984), and a realistic novel, Bomb Two (1983), on the life of a bomb disposal officer. His last was a meticulously researched story of the awards of the medal to women, appropriately entitled Fashioned into a Bow (1995), since that is how the brick-red ribbon with its five brave blue stripes is tied for full-dress civilian wear.

Donald Victor Henderson, bomb disposal officer: born Dover, Kent 12 December 1921; GM 1975; twice married (two sons, two daughters); died Horncastle, Lincolnshire 30 January 1999.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power