Awarded the DSM for services during Operation Pedestal while serving as Apprentice on Clan Ferguson .
“Operation Pedestal” needs no introduction here, but it is worth recalling the bare facts: of the 14 merchantmen that set out, nine were sunk, including Clan Ferguson, and three damaged, while the Senior Service lost an aircraft carrier, two cruisers and one destroyer, as well as having another half a dozen ships damaged.
For the likes of Arthur Black, aboard Clan Ferguson, the moment of truth arrived on Wednesday 12 August 1942, when his ship was hit by an aerial torpedo off Zembra Island and blew up in a spectacular fashion. Peter Smith takes up the story in his history, Pedestal: the Malta Convoy of August 1942:
Capt. Albert G Allson
DSM Lloyds Bravery Medal
‘A colossal explosion took place which led all who witnessed it to believe that she had blown up without survivors. The sheet of flame which followed set fire to the after part of the vessel and she began to rapidly settle by the stern. Many of the lifeboats were set on fire but most of the crew managed to get away on rafts, some using their steel helmets as paddles to get away from the blazing fuel on the sea.’
Watchers aboard the nearby Waimarama had seen firstly the Empire Hope struck by aerial missiles on their starboard beam, and then off their starboard bow the Clan Ferguson was likewise hit. Small wonder then they felt that enough was enough. An eyewitness recorded later:
‘We hauled out of line after this. I saw a terrific burst of flame, half a mile high, shoot up into the air. I cannot imagine how any of her crew escaped but soon after we heard shouts in the water. We could not risk the ship going too near the flames and were obliged to proceed. I did not see any escort standing by her so do not think that there could have been any survivors from her. We continued at full speed keeping inside territorial waters to avoid mines laid outside. For a long time the Clan Ferguson could be seen burning furiously and we saw several ships silhouetted by the light from her.’
Despite the violence of the explosion many of her crew did in fact survive. Her Second Officer, Mr A. H. Black, gives a graphic description of those moments:
‘I could see the flames coming up from the engine-room skylight and the ship's side. The hatch covers were blown off Number Four Hold and two landing craft stowed on top were also blown off. Of the ship's four lifeboats, Number Three Boat was destroyed and all the others except Number One Boat caught fire. Three rafts were got away. There was a violent explosion in Number Five Hold and the ship appeared to sink about seven minutes after being hit. The oil blazed on the water for forty-eight hours and petrol cans kept floating to the surface and catching fire, as did the oil, causing thick black smoke. In all sixty-four men got away and were eventually equally divided on the four rafts which drifted apart.’
A very gallant act was performed by Midshipman Allson, on his first voyage. Reaching a small raft, he pushed it along in front of him and helped several badly burnt men aboard. These he later transferred to a larger raft. Their blazing vessel drifted away leaving them alone save for the fading sounds of battle ... ’
Black, who was picked up in one of his ship’s rafts by the Italians and temporarily interned in Tunisia, returned to the U.K. at the end of the year and finished the War as a 1st Mate of the Samdon. Post-war he remained actively employed by the Clan Line until taking early retirement in January 1951.
Albert Geoffrey Allson
Halifax Herald 02/17/2010
ALLSON, Captain Albert Geoffrey- Of Bedford, passed away suddenly, at the age of 85, on January 30, 2010.
Grampy (as he was known by many) was born in Foucho, China, March 20, 1924. He was predeceased by his parents, Albert and Emily (Spiers) Allson; his brother, Allen Allson and his wife, Vera Jeans (Norman). Geoffrey is survived by his twin sister, Joan Allson Canterbury, Kent, England and by his stepdaughter ,Vicki Jeans, Halifax and stepson, Richard (Carol) Jeans, Courtenay, B.C.; his grandchildren, Amanda Brownell, Australia; David (Trina) Jeans, Rose Blanche, N.L.; Greg (Jen) Jeans, Invermere, B.C. and Terry (Susy) Jeans, Gatineau, Que.; great-grandchildren, Brandon, Christopher, Noah and Henri.
Geoffrey was educated in England, and received his pre-sea training at H.M.S. Worcester Nautical Training College from 1940 until 1942.
On July 27, 1942, he joined Clan Line Ltd. as an apprentice and was appointed to the "Clan Ferguson". He was part of the Malta Convoy when his ship was torpedoed, and he spent the night in the water helping survivors get to the life rafts. The next day, he was picked up by a German Flying Boat and taken to Sicily as a POW and later transferred to Germany.
He was credited for saving 18 persons and in May of 1943 was awarded the Lloyd's War Medal for bravery at sea. In June of 1945 he was presented with the Distinguished Service Medal by King George VI.
After the war, he returned to service with the Clan Line fleet. The Clan Line later amalgamated with the Union Castle Line and became known as The British and Commonwealth Shipping Company. He served on various types of vessels in the fleet, cargo liners, product tankers, mail vessels and paper carriers.
He was promoted to Captain in May 1967. He left the company in 1979 and immigrated to Canada and joined the Kent Line in May 1983. He spent only a few years with them, and then retired for good.
He loved to garden and to walk his dog, but music was his passion. He had hundreds of reel to reel tapes, records, cassettes and DVDs and he spent many hours listening to his favourite singers. He was always helping others. Even at 85, he helped plow out his neighbours with his snow blower. As one of his neighbours described him, he was an icon, always had time for a friendly chat and always smiling. He was a wonderful brother, husband, dad and "Grampy". He will be greatly missed.