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Falklands war vet Derek did his duty right to the end; Seaman who saw sinking of HMS Coventry in the Falklands conflict collapsed just hours after collecting for the poppy appeal. PAUL SUART reports.

A WAR veteran who collapsed just hours after collecting for the poppy appeal died 'doing his duty', friends said.

Derek Wilkes, 60, was found dead at his home in Quinton, after he had served as union standard bearer for the Royal British Legion during a fundraising event.

He had been due to take part in the Remembrance Day service at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital tomorrow.

Chairman of the Royal British Legion Birmingham branch, Robin Braithwaite, said his old friend seemed his normal self at the armed forces day event, but had been in a degree of discomfort.

Mr Braithwaite said: "Derek wasn't just a buddy, mate, or comrade in arms; he was a true friend, one who I personally will miss dearly.

"He was extremely private. Knowing Derek, he might have had a serious illness but just never told anyone.

"Everyone who attended the guard of honour could see that he was in pain, but my friend would not stand down.

"He did what he believed to be his duty right to the end. You've got to respect the man for that."

Derek, who served as a Royal Navy stoker on HMS Broadsword during the Falklands War in 1982, was a widower and leaves behind a son, a daughter and two grandchildren. HMS Broadsword was involved in one of the most tragic incidents of the conflict.

The frigate, which was providing air defence support to HMS Coventry, was attacked by two Argentinian Skyhawks on May 25 and developed a technical fault in her Sea Wolf missile system and was unable to fire.

HMS Broadsword had a lucky escape - it was hit by a bomb which smashed through the helicopter deck, destroying a Lynx, but then rebounded through the hull, exploding outside.

But HMS Coventry wasn't so fortunate, being hit three times, which caused major damage. Within 20 minutes it had capsized. 19 crew died and HMS Broadsword pulled 170 out of the sea.

Mr Braithwaite, who lives in Shard End, added: "Our friendship was one of mutual respect and understanding as we had both seen action during the Falklands campaign.

"Derek's loyalty as a friend was second to none. He was always at the end of the phone and would do anything he could for his friends."

In a service held at the Nautical Club in Birmingham, Reverend David Bennett described Derek as "a very active, genuine, gifted and caring colleague. Rev Bennett added: "Derek was a most loyal and genuine friend, certainly a gentleman.

"I offer a prayer for all members of the Royal British Legion in Birmingham, and his family and friends at this time."

Richard Willetts, chairman of the RBL Quinton branch, said: "Derek was a very quiet and personal man who was a big fan of fly fishing. He had been a standard bearer for the Harborne and Quinton branches and had just won a Birmingham county standard bearer competition.

"He was due to represent Birmingham at a Remembrance Day service at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine.

"His position within the RBL will always be remembered. He will have a full military funeral and I expect it will be very well attended by standard bearers across the country."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.

"He did what he believed to be his duty right to the end. You've got to respect the man for that." ROBIN BRAITHWAITE


Robin Braithwaite

Derek Wilkes was a standard bearer for the Royal British Legion and saw service in the Falklands War where HMS Coventry was sunk
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 9, 2013
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