History & Learning

Convoys Remembered

Bob Allan

Merchant Navy

Written by Simone Gordon (granddaughter)

My grandfather was Bob Allan, who, aged 17, served in the Merchant Navy as an apprentice. Growing up in Boston, Lincolnshire, his father was Captain Peter Allan, a veteran of the Battle of Jutland in WW1 and a Ship’s Pilot in Boston Dock during WW2. His brother Peter served in the war in the Royal Navy.

Bob Allan was the founding member of the Russian Convoy Club, a war veterans’ association for Merchant Seamen involved in the Arctic Convoys to Russia. My grandfather campaigned for official honour of an Arctic Star, like the Atlantic Star awarded to the Atlantic Convoys during WW2. Successive British governments refused to award a medal to these brave seamen due to cooled relations politically between the British government and the USSR, although eventually in 1990’s the Russian government showered British veterans of the Arctic Convoys with medals and honours. Warm relations between British and Soviet war veterans were forged due to the Russian Convoy Club and many visits and continue between British and Russian families to this day.

I was very proud of my grandfather, whom survived the infamous convoy PQ17, one of the worst maritime disasters of the war, in which the convoy was ordered to scatter, and suffered aerial bombardment and torpedoes from German U-boats lying in wait. ‘For the Royal Navy, the massacre of PQ-17 and the abandonment of the convoy was one of the most shameful episodes of the war at sea. Details of the losses were kept from the public until after the war. The British decision to withdraw its protection from the convoy strained Anglo-American relations. Admiral Ernest J. King, chief of U.S. naval operations, was so enraged that he was very reluctant to have American and British ships continue operating together. Churchill lamented the fate of PQ-17 and wrote in his memoirs years later, All risks should have been taken in the defense of the merchant ships.’ Source.

My grandfather Bob Allan somehow survived PQ17 Convoy. He rarely spoke about his experiences though he did tell me he had a Russian girlfriend called Marina when they were forced to stay in Russia most of Winter due to the terrible weather. Sadly my fascinating grandfather crossed the bar in 2000. He is always missed, never forgotten.

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