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Obituary: Donald King – former New Forest police officer received BEM for saving lives of teen sailors

Donald King
Donald King

FORMER New Forest police officer Donald King, who received a British Empire Medal for his gallantry in saving the lives of three teenaged boys, has died at the age of 87.

It was during his first posting as an officer, to New Milton, that he was involved in a dramatic rescue at Milford in 1959.

Donald and his colleague PC Ivor Handley were cycling along the cliffs when they spotted a small boat in difficulties almost a mile off the coast. They stripped off and swam towards the yacht which had overturned.

PC Handley returned to shore with one boy while Donald, a strong swimmer who had played water polo at county level, continued out to the dinghy to find two teenagers clinging to the hull.

Using a petrol can as a makeshift buoyancy aid for one of the frightened boys Donald held on to the other and remained with them until an RAF rescue helicopter eventually arrived to winch them all to safety.

Both Donald and Ivor were decorated for their bravery, with Donald receiving the BEM for gallantry. In later years he recalled his biggest fear was being late for dinner and ruining his uniform.

Donald’s origins were in Worksop, where he was born, and he went on to be educated at King Edward VI Grammar School at Retford.

He had considered signing on to be a military policeman but instead undertook national service with the RAF based at Scampton where he met Stella Drew, a young WAAF from Lymington.

They were married in 1954, and Stella left the RAF to become a home-maker and mother. When Donald was sent to Egypt during the Suez crisis, Stella returned to Lymington to have their first child and await her husband’s return.

Donald soon fell in love with the New Forest, and left the RAF in 1957 to join Hampshire Constabulary with his first posting in New Milton.

He enjoyed golf at Barton and eventually played to a single-figure handicap.

He also represented various police teams at cricket and football.

Promotions and a transfer to CID took him to Andover then back to Christchurch as a sergeant until in 1972 he was given the opportunity of further promotion to inspector and secondment to Scotland Yard’s C9 section.

Returning to Hampshire after two years saw postings initially to Aldershot and then to the Isle of Wight, where he was detective chief inspector in charge of the Island’s CID.

With three prisons on his patch, Donald was never short of interesting cases and encounters with some of Britain’s most notorious gangsters, some of whom he had met previously in London.

A return to Aldershot and promotion to superintendent saw him form close friendships with the military community and a number of senior army officers.

This led him to join an exercise with the parachute regiment leaping from a C5 Hercules at 600ft into the icy waters of Weymouth Bay.

Donald then moved to Winchester and returned to uniform as a chief superintendent at HQ, and then a final move as divisional commander of a swathe of southern Hampshire.

In all this time, Donald and Stella dreamed of returning to the New Forest, and bought a former police house in Totton as a stepping stone to their dream of retiring to Lymington or Milford.

Donald’s career was cut short when he needed two hip replacements, forcing early retirement.

Tragically, Stella became ill with multiple sclerosis and then cancer before she died in 1987 leaving Donald a widower at the age of 54.

He filled some of his time paying bowls and watching rugby. He became an avid rugby fan, travelling to watch Bath home and away.

It was while playing bowls he met Ann Clarkson, a widow, and they were able to enjoy some wonderful sunset years and happy times together, including a new-found love for cruises, which took them to many exotic locations until ill health finally curtailed their adventures.

Donald died at Hamble Heights Nursing Home and leaves two sons, Andrew and Steven who was also a police sergeant in Southampton.

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