George Cross to Merchant Navy hero to be auctioned
A George Cross won by a Scotsman when he rescued comrades from a blazing cargo ship attacked by German aircraft in a North African harbour in 1943 is to be auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb.
The George Cross, the highest British gallantry decoration that can be won by someone not in the armed forces, and other medals awarded to Chief Officer George Stronach are expected to fetch up to £140,000.
Stronach rescued four comrades – one of who subsequently died from his injuries – amid the blazing hell of S.S. Ocean Voyager, which was moored in Tripoli with thousands of tons of aviation fuel and ammunition aboard when it came under low level attack from the Luftwaffe. Despite being knocked temporarily unconscious by a massive explosion which killed the ship’s captain, he recovered and rescued survivors as the cargo exploded, only jumping overboard when he was sure that nobody was still alive on the ship. His George Cross is one of just three awarded to merchant seamen during the Second World War and the citation said that his gallantry, ‘Equals any in the annals of the Merchant Navy’.
The decorations and medals are being offered for sale by George Stronach’s daughter, who lives in Scotland. She said, “I am extremely proud of my father, for he was a very fine man in every way. I think it could be said of him, as of so many others, that he was a ‘reluctant hero’. He never spoke about the war although I know that he never forgot it or those of his shipmates who were lost during the bombing raid in Tripoli. Indeed, one of his greatest wishes was to have been able to visit the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery there in order to pay his respects to his shipmates. Sadly, this was never realised.
“With regard to the medals and archive being offered for sale, I have had the privilege of being the custodian of his awards since he passed them into my safe-keeping nearly 30 years ago. However, I feel that the time has now come for me to pass them on safely to a new owner. It is my sincere hope that whoever purchases this archive will honour all of it and display the items for the public to view and ponder on. Following the sale, it is my intention to give some of the proceeds to a charitable organization in his memory and I am currently looking into which would be the most suitable for this purpose.”
Stronach not only received one of just three World War II George Crosses to the Merchant Navy – the other two are in museums – but also the Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea awarded by Lloyd’s of London. After a period in hospital recovering from a back injury sustained during the action, Stronach went back to sea before becoming a marine pilot on the Clyde. Retiring in 1979, he lived in Acharacle, Argyllshire, where he died on 12 December 1999. He is buried in the parish church in Acharacle.
Stronach’s decorations and medals consist of: George Cross, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star with clasp North Africa 1942-3, War Medal 1939-45, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977, and the Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea. They are accompanied by an archive of original material, including letters of gratitude from two of the men whose lives he saved. The lot is expected to fetch £120,000 to £140,000.