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George Preston STRONACH, GC

No. & Rank at the Time of Action: Chief Officer

Unit/Occupation: Merchant Navy

Date and Place of Birth: 4th December 1914. Portgordon, Moray Coast, Scotland (Times obit has DoB 14/4/12)

Family: Husband of Mrs Marion Stronach (nee MacDonald), One son and a daughter Maira

Early Life:

Date and Place of GC Action: 19th March 1943, Tripoli Harbour

The London Gazette: 23rd November 1943

Citation: "The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to:-

George Preston STRONACH, Esq., Chief Officer.

When the ship was lying in harbour, a severe aircraft attacked developed and she was hit and at once caught fire. The vessel had a large consignment of petrol and ammunition on board, which was exploding heavily all the time and in spite of strenuous efforts which were made to light the fire she had to be abandoned. The Master was killed by the explosion and the responsibility for further operations devolved on the Chief Officer.

He had been rendered temporarily unconscious but recovered almost immediately and went forward to look for survivors. He found a number of the crew sheltering in the alley way and, braving the exploding ammunition, led them to a boat alongside which took them to safety. In order to provide for the transport of any other survivors who might be found, he then lowered another boat and brought it alongside the ship. Although the vessel was now burning furiously Mr. Stronach made his way to the officers' accommodation amidships. Finding a hose with a trickle of water coming through, he held this over his head and so kept himself sufficiently wet to protect him from the worst of the heat and flames. With great difficulty he climbed into the collapsed accommodation and found one of the deck officers, unconscious and badly burned. Mr. Stronach pulled him dear and dragged him along the deck to the lowered boat. Returning to the accommodation, he began to remove the debris from another officer who was trapped. By almost superhuman efforts he dragged the man through the porthole and along the deck. He then tied a rope around his waist and lowered him over the side to the boat.

As the situation was becoming desperate Mr. Stronach ordered a man to take the boat to safety and once again he returned amidships where he discovered an officer who had been severely injured. Dragging him along the deck to the side of the ship, he tied a rope around him and lowered him over the side on to a raft which had returned to the ship in response to his calls. Again Mr. Stronach continued his search for survivors and, taking a final look round aft, he saw a greaser lying unconscious in the scuppers. He dragged this man to the side of the ship but finding there was no raft or boat alongside, put a lifebelt around him and threw him overboard. When he was satisfied that there were no further survivors the Chief Officer jumped overboard and swam to a raft which, under his direction, returned to pick up the injured greaser.

In the full knowledge that she was likely to blow up at any moment Chief Officer Stronach stayed on this burning vessel searching for survivors for an hour and twenty minutes. His inspiring leadership induced a number of the crew to get away and so saved their lives and by his gallant efforts, undertaken with utter disregard of his personal safety, he saved the lives of three officers and a greaser, all of whom were badly hurt. His action equals any in the annals of the Merchant Navy for great and unselfish heroism and determination in the face of overwhelming odds."

Account of Deed: The incident occured on 19th March 1943 when the SS Ocean Voyager which was anchored in Tripoli Harbour was struck by enemy bombs and caught fire. The Master had been killed and the Chief Officer, Mr. Stronach took command of the situation, rallied the crew and led a number of them to a boat alongside which took them to safety. He then braved the heat and flames to go back to rescue one of the officers who had been badly burnt, returning to fetch two other officers who had been so badly injured that they were unable to move. Again continuing his search for survivors, he found a greaser lying unconscious in the scuppers. He dragged this man to the side of the ship and, as there were now no lifeboats, he put a life belt round him and threw him overboard. In the full knowledge that the vessel was likely to blow up at any minute, Chief Officer Stronach stayed searching for survivors for a further hour and twenty minutes.

Remarks:

Additional Information:

Final Rank:

Other Decorations/Medals: Lloyd's Medal for Bravery at Sea

GC Location/Sale History:

Date and Place of Death: 12th December 1999

Cause of Death:

Burial/Cremation:

Obituary: (The Daily Telegraph, Saturday 18th December 1999)

GEORGE STRONACH, who has died aged 85, won the George Cross as Chief Officer of the SS Ocean Voyager which was bombed while at anchor in the harbour of Tripoli, North Africa, on March 19 1943. Stronach went below through the flames seeking survivors The ship caught fire, her cargo of petrol and ammunition exploded, and in spite of strenuous efforts to fight the fire, the ship had to be abandoned. Her Master was killed by the explosion and Stronach himself was blown 25 feet under one of the lifeboats and knocked unconscious. When he recovered a few minutes later, he saw that ammunition was exploding and tracer bullets were flying in all directions.

Many of the crew got away safely, but 15 were trapped forward. Stronach led them through the exploding ammunition and saw them safely into a boat alongside. He then went to the boat deck, lowered another boat unaided and secured it alongside. By this time the ship was a blazing inferno and although the heat was intense, Stronach made his way towards the officers' cabins to look for survivors. He pulled a fire hose with him which only had a trickle of water coming through it, but he held it over his head and so kept himself sufficiently wet to protect himself from the flames.

He found the Second Officer badly burned and bleeding in a bathroom. He pulled him clear and dragged him along the deck to the boat he had already lowered. The passageway was now blocked and the bulkheads were red hot, but looking through a crack Stronach saw somebody had become jammed in a porthole while trying to escape. It was the Chief Engineer, whose legs were broken and badly burned. Stronach pulled him clear, tied a rope round him and lowered him into the boat. He then went back amidships again and found the 3rd Radio Officer with one leg broken and other serious injuries. Stronach carried him along the deck, hailed a raft which came alongside and then lowered the injured man into it.

By now No 3 Hold, where 500 tons of 1000 lb bombs were stowed, was burning fiercely, and Stronach decided to abandon ship himself. But just then he saw a greaser lying collapsed from shock in the scuppers. He told the 2nd Engineer to go down the ladder hanging over the ship's side and sit on the bottom step where he would be clear of falling shrapnel. He took off the greaser's boots, put a lifebelt round him and lowered him down on to a raft. Stronach then dived overboard and swam to the raft. Using his hands, he brought it alongside a lighter from which he obtained a piece of wood to paddle the raft back to the ship, where he took off the 2nd Engineer. He, the 2nd Engineer, and the greaser were picked up by a naval launch. They had been on board the blazing ship for an hour and 20 minutes. Ocean Voyager blew up and sank the next day. Stronach was also awarded Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea.

George Preston Stronach was born on December 4 1914 in the small village of Portgordon on the Moray coast, where his father was the local blacksmith. He went to the local school, which he left at 14 to work as a butcher's apprentice. But his ambition was to go to sea, which he did as a deck boy in 1932, and worked his way up to Able Seaman. He passed the examination for 2nd Mate in 1937, joined the Clan Line and was appointed 4th Officer on the Clan Mactavish. He passed for Mate in March 1940, and applied to join the Glasgow firm of H Hogarth & Sons. He was appointed 2nd Officer of the Baron Stranraer. He gained his Master's Certificate in 1942 and joined the Ocean Voyager as Chief Officer.

George Stronach spent some months recovering from a back injury sustained on board Ocean Voyager. In 1943 he was appointed to the Clyde Pilotage Authority to become a licensed pilot, and in due course was one of the Blue Funnel Line choice pilots on the river.

He became Pilot Master in 1968 and held this post until he retired in 1979. He was elected a member of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners in 1973.

A regular and devout churchgoer, George Stronach was scout master of his church Scout group in Greenock. He was a keen fiddler and dancer, and an expert bee-keeper.

As a GC winner, he was regularly invited to meet the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, and although he was a rather shy man he could hold his own in any company.

He married Marion Macdonald, who predeceased him. They had a daughter, and a son who died last June.

Memorials:

Town/County Connections: Glasgow, Scotland