Arctic Convoys, HMS Zambesi and a Scottish great-grandfather’s unpublished autobiography

Arctic Convoy: HMS Zambesi - Roy Elwood, centre, derek Hirst and Roy Mander

Above are three men who served on HMS Zambesi n the Arctic Convoys of World War II, the tall one in the centre is Roy Elwood, now an eminent photographer and who has written a series of articles for us on torpedo training in Loch Long in Argyll, on Zambesi’s convoy and on the ship’s leading role in the evacuation of the Norwegian island of Soroy, very much a cause celebre at the time.

Roy acts for us in coordinating the material that together we are collecting on the Convoys through access to convoy veterans and to their next generation relatives.

With him in the photograph is Derek Hirst, who has also written for us on Zambesi, the Soroy evacuation and on his own voyage in Zambesi to Bergen when the war in Europe was declared over.

Joining the two of them in a recent get-together is Roy Mander, a fellow member of Zambesi’s crew.

Each of them were identified during their basic training as potential officer material and were sent for a spell on HMS Corinthian, an armed merchantman devoted to assessing officer candidates. Roy (unsurprisingly known as ‘Lofty’ to his crewmates, has said before that he was ‘rather immature at the time so did not make it’.

When people involved in the convoys, or related to those who were, respond to any of the stories we have published- and several have done – we ask their permission to put them in touch with Roy.

He has just told us that one man who responding to Roy’s own main article in For Argyll is John Allison, son of JH Allison who commanded Zambezi and led the Soroy evacuation and the subsequent rescue of those from the Liberty Ship, the SS Henry Bacon.

As well as sharing information on Zambesi and the Arctic Convoys, John Allison has now sent Roy an autobiography of his Scottish great grandfather (Capt Allison’s grandfather) John Dunlop Allison, found in a trunk about 100 years after it was written.

Roy describes this as one of the most remarkable stories he has read.

He says that the opening sentence captures the flavour of it: ‘I was born at sea on the Duke of Portland on her voyage souward from Ichebo in Peru, bound for Ardrossan with a cargo of Guano on the 1st June 1842’.

Roy has forwarded a digital version of this to us which we have just read. I is both a very moving story and one capturing the relationships of a bygone age, where ,even within working families, there was a degree of restrained formality dispensed with today even between strangers.

We have asked Roy Elwood to discover from Mr Allison is he would like it to be published, in which case we would be delighted to make it available online.

A footnote to this story is that when Derek Hirst did a cruise up the coast of Norway a few years ago, the ship had engaged a man to entertain passengers by giving a talk on the Soroy (sometimes angicised as Soroya)  rescue. This man seemed a bit unnerved to discover that Derek Hirst had actually been involved in the evacuation but Roy says: ‘They now get on well and he uses some of Derek’s material’. Roy has a copy of the Powerpoint presentation the speaker has put together and finds it very interesting.

Related Articles & Comments

  • My father William Keogh served on HMS Zambezi during the war. He also served on Norwegian Merchantmen as a gunner,I think they were known as DEMS. I would be grateful for any information on the ship.
    Bill Keogh

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    Bill Keogh June 10, 2011 6:18 pm Reply
  • Arctic Convoys, HMS Zambesi and a Scottish great-grandfather’s unpublished autobiography
    Posted on July 10, 2010 by newsroom

    Dear Sirs
    I refer to the above-mentioned article (last paragraph)which has just recently been brought to my attention, and on which I’d like to comment, albeit somewhat belatedly

    I am the person to whom Roy Elwood refers, and I should like to point out that I was not in the least unnerved to meet Derek Hirst on the ship. Why should I have been – the presentation to which Roy refers (and I understand, has a copy of, something that was most certainly not authorised by me)was not written and produced until more than a year after Derek Hirst and I met aboard the ship!

    The implication that Derek and I did not get on well at the outset, is absolutely and totally untrue. The reverse was the case in fact!

    Best regards
    Stuart Usher (author “Soroya to Salvation”)

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    Stuart Usher August 11, 2012 7:29 pm Reply

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