St Albans war veteran celebrates 90th birthday in style

WAR veteran Victor Coombes thought he was just going out for a meal in a St Albans restaurant to celebrate his 90th birthday – until he got there.

Because waiting to greet him outside Freddie’s in Adelaide Street was a contingent of volunteers from St Albans Sea Cadets who piped him inside where 14 friends and relatives were waiting to celebrate with him.

The birthday surprise for Victor, who lives in Paisley with his wife Helen, was organised by his son Bob Macbeth-Seath of Abbey Avenue, St Albans, in honour of his father who was a veteran of the Royal Navy’s wartime relief flotilla, The Pedestal Convoy, in Malta in World War Two, during which he suffered serious bomb shrapnel injuries.

The Pedestal Convoy successfully relieved Malta from its isolation during the war but at a very high cost in the lives of seamen. Victor is one of the few surviving veterans of the battle over the skies of that country and still makes an annual pilgrimage to Malta with other veterans.

Before leaving home for the restaurant, Victor’s daughter-in-law, Chiew, persuaded him to wear his beret and World War Two medals for the evening out so the sea cadets, who had volunteered enthusiastically for the task, had no difficulty recognising the guest of honour.

And on the day of the celebratory meal, Victor also received a letter of congratulations and thanks from the High Commissioner of Malta, Joseph Zammit Tabona, who spoke of the esteem and recognition in which the veterans are held by the Maltese people.

Victor joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve on his 18th birthday in May, 1939. When war was declared four months later he was assigned as an able seaman to the destroyer HMS Vega. But at the tender age of 21, he suffered severe facial wounds when the Luftwaffe strafed Malta and the ships in the convoy which had made it into harbour.