Tributes to SAS signaller John Steven

John 'Ian' Steven was known as 'The Commander'. Picture: contributed
John 'Ian' Steven was known as 'The Commander'. Picture: contributed
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A MERCHANT seaman and distinguished naval commander has died, aged 81.

John “Ian” Steven was born in Edinburgh on September 3, 1932 – exactly seven years before the start of the Second World War. He was the youngest child of Catherine and John Steven, originally from Thurso but who had come to Edinburgh to work. John was a train driver at Leith Docks.

At the time of their marriage Ian’s parents lived at Lochend Road South but by the time Ian arrived the family had moved to Craigmillar.

Ian was baptised in Bristo Memorial Church and attended primary locally. He won a bursary to attend George Heriot’s School and then went into banking. But this promising career was interrupted by the “call-up” to national service.

Ian underwent initial training at Dreghorn Barracks and eventually joined the Royal Signals. He was attached to British Special Forces as a signaller in the SAS and saw active service in the jungle during the Malayan Emergency.

On completion of national service Ian found it difficult to adjust to life as a bank clerk and applied to Leith Nautical College, where he qualified as a radio operator in the Merchant Navy. As a merchant seaman he travelled around the world twice, on passenger and cargo ships, before he was 21.

He then joined the Royal Naval Reserve and served as a Radio Officer, eventually being awarded the Reserve Decoration after 14 years’ service as a commissioned officer. Ultimately he reached the rank of Commander, and he was known as “The Commander” in certain circles for the rest of his life.

Ian met his wife Anne Greenshields in 1958 at the New Cavendish Ballroom in Morningside and they wed in South Leith Parish Church, where both were active members. They had two children, Andrew and Catherine.

During the early 1970s, Ian was involved in the Cod Wars between Britain and Iceland over fishing rights and was then recruited into naval intelligence.

He was serving as a signals officer on the SS Explorer, a fisheries research ship sailing out of Leith and, unknown to the crew, being used to spy on Russian submarines in the Barents Sea, north of Norway. Ian would meet American naval intelligence officers prior to the ­Explorer sailing and secret equipment would be fitted for Ian to use at sea. Only the Captain and Ian knew of this. After the Explorer returned to Leith the equipment would be removed for analysis.

Ian and Anne lived in Ryehill Grove, Leith, and after Anne’s death from an unforseen illness in 1982 Ian stayed in Craigentinny Avenue with his daughter Catherine.

He was diagnosed with stomach cancer some months ago and spent his final few days in the care of St Columba’s Hospice. He maintained his fighting spirit and sense of humour to the very end.