Great Yarmouth History

James Allen

I never met my Grandad as he died on 6th August 1941. He had a short life, being born on 15th February 1901 in South Shields Co Durham. He was married to Thomasina Sherrington at St Bedes Catholic Church South Shields in 1920. They had four children Marion born 1921, Audrey born 1926, James born 1932 and John born 1934.

I know nothing of James' life until April 1930 when he enlisted as a fireman on the SS Doric Star. He was employed on the Doric Star until December 1939. As the ship was just off the west coast of Africa, returning from Australia and New Zealand, they encountered the German battle ship the Graf Spee. The Captain of the Graf Spee Hans Langsdorff ordered the crew of the Doric Star to vacate the ship before the Graf Spee sank it. Prior to the crew leaving they managed to send a signal to the Admiralty in London informing them of what had happend. This would later prove to be instrumental in the sinking of the Graf Spee.

Having survived that encounter he then took employment on the SS Afon Towy. A small ship which appears to have made short journeys from the east coast of England across to Europe and back.

In August 1941 the SS Afon Towy was part of a convoy of six ships including the SS Aberhill, SS Taara, Betty Hindley and the trawler Agate. As the ships were headed for London they encountered very heavy weather and were grounded on Haisbro Sands just off the Norfolk coast. The Cromer and Gorleston lifeboats were called in to rescue the crews. All the crew of the Aberhill, 23 in all, were saved and the only casualties appear to be the crew of the Afon Towy. From the crew of eleven only four were saved, my grandad was amongst those lost.

My grandmother and family went on to survive the war, but not before being bombed out of two houses and loosing all their possessions.

James Allen is remembered with Honour at the Tower Hill memorial for the Merchant Navy.