Origin of River Gade’s ‘mystery duck’ revealed more than 40 years on

Ian Welch aged 10, left, and as he is now
Ian Welch aged 10, left, and as he is now
  • Town finally hears how a duck that couldn’t swim appeared on River Gade
  • Ian Welch rescued Donald when he was just a boy and released him back into the wild, but didn’t expect to see him on the Gazette’s front page
  • Duck caught reporter’s attention after river warden made the animal a polystyrene boat to float on the water

A shiatsu healer who anonymously rescued and released a ‘mystery duck’ more than 40 years ago has finally come forward to tell his story.

Back in the early 1970s, the Hemel Hempstead Gazette ran a front page story on a ‘mysterious duck’ which had appeared in the River Gade in the town centre.

I saw this duck with no feathers on its neck, and an Alsatian dog with no fur on its tail.

Ian Welch, duck rescuer

The animal was not able to swim and instead walked along the bottom of the shallow stream before he was spotted by the river warden, who made him a polystyrene boat.

Now builder-turned-healer Ian Welch, 53, has revealed exactly how the duck – named Donald – ended up in the river.

Mr Welch, who grew up in Parkhill Road, Boxmoor, was visiting his grandparents near St Albans, when he witnessed a funny sight.

He said: “I saw this duck with no feathers on its neck, and an Alsatian dog with no fur on its tail. I asked the man in the garden ‘What’s wrong with your duck?’ and he said that the dog had been throwing the duck around the garden by its neck.

“He asked me if I wanted him and my mum was an absolute sucker for animals so he came home with us!”

The family gave the duck his first introduction to water in a paddling pool.

However, after several months of living in the garden, the family released Donald near the River Gade, but were worried when they saw he was still not able to swim.

Mr Welch, who now lives in Swindon, said: “We thought: ‘What have we done!?’ and worried he wouldn’t survive.”

But when the Gazette hit the news stands, a photograph of Donald floating in a handmade polystyrene boat was plastered across the front page, because no one knew where he had come from.

He said: “We were relieved he was okay but a bit embarrassed because we knew it was our doing!”

The revelation is part of Mr Welch’s autobiography, which he is currently writing.