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William Evan Allan: life of a boy sailor

SALUTE: More than 1,200 sailors turned out to pay their last respects to Evan Allan, Navy’s last World War I veteran, at a state funeral held for him at HMAS Cerberus last month. Photo: LSPH Gavin Hainsworth

SALUTE: More than 1,200 sailors turned out to pay their last respects to Evan Allan, Navy’s last World War I veteran, at a state funeral held for him at HMAS Cerberus last month.

Photo: LSPH Gavin Hainsworth

By Michael Brooke

The last Navy World War I veteran has finally been laid to rest.
Mr Evan Allan, died aged 106, and was farewelled with a state funeral at Saint Mark’s

Chapel at HMAS Cerberus on October 25.
More than 200 VIPs including the Deputy Chief of Navy and 1,200 sailors turned out to pay their respects to Mr Allan, who was Australia’s last direct link to two world wars and the generation that forged the proud tradition of Anzac.

DCN RADM Max Hancock told Navy News that Mr Allan’s death was significant not only for the Navy but the entire country because “he takes with him a piece of our history”.
“We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Mr Allan and the generation of Australians who forged the Anzac tradition with their blood, sweat and tears in war,” he said.

CDRE Jim Dickson (Rtd) delivered the eulogy and said Mr Allan’s death was a milestone of great symbolic importance to all Australians.
“The Last Post has sounded for the last Australian and Navy man to fight in WWI, the conflict that helped forge an infant nation’s identity,” he said.

“Farewell Evan Allan, father, grandfather, sailor, friend. May you rest in peace, secure in the knowledge that you have the admiration, affection, respect of the people of the country you served so long, so proudly and so well.”

The Navy farewelled the last sailor to fight in both world wars with a funeral befitting an Admiral of the Fleet.
After the service, a party of 24 sailors fired a three-volley salute from their Steyr rifles as Mr Allan’s flag-draped coffin was “walk-marched” from the chapel.

It was then placed on a naval 12-pound gun-carriage for his last journey through Cerberus, where decades earlier he had taught seamanship as an instructor.
Officers led the funeral procession with swords reversed, while some 500 sailors stood at attention. As the Navy Band playing a funeral song, the gun-carriage was led to the hearse that would take the coffin to the crematorium.

SMN Tanya Steward, 28, of HMAS Cerberus, summed up the sorrow of the sailors in the funeral procession saying “today the nation has lost someone who gave us our proud tradition of the fighting spirit of Anzac”.

FINAL RESPECTS: Sailors carry the coffin ouside the Cerberus chapel. PHOTO: ABPH Nina Nikolin.

FINAL RESPECTS: Sailors carry the coffin ouside the Cerberus chapel.
PHOTO: ABPH Nina Nikolin.

William Evan Crawford Allan was born on July 24, 1899 at Bega in NSW. His grandfather was one of the original settlers in the Bega region and as a child, Evan was brought up on a family property in nearby Upper Brogo.

He highlighted the 1908 visit of the American Great White Fleet as influencing his desire to join the Royal Australian Navy. This ambition was realised March 13, 1914 when Evan enlisted as a 14-year-old Boy Second Class and began his naval career in the boys’ training ship HMAS Tingira.

In July, 1915, he joined the light cruiser HMAS Encounter, which shortly thereafter sailed on a four-month patrol of the South West Pacific, where Fiji was utilised as a base for operations.

He then saw further active service overseas in the Malay archipelago from late 1915 to early 1916; in the South West Pacific between September and December 1917, when Encounter joined the search for the German raider Wolf; and two voyages to Colombo on convoy escort duty.

He left Encounter in August 1918 for passage to the United Kingdom in the transport ship Barambah. During the voyage there was an outbreak of Spanish Influenza which led to a significant number of deaths. He then joined the cruiser HMAS Sydney in Scotland one week after the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet. Sydney returned to Australia in July 1919 after a long passage from England via the Suez Canal.

He then drafted to HMAS Brisbane in September 1919 and served in the cruiser for three years. The period was typical of peacetime service, but it was significant for Evan’s professional development.
He was promoted to Leading Seaman in November 1919 and then to Petty Officer in June 1922; qualified as a Seaman Torpedoman; and volunteered to join the RAN’s submarine service in September 1921. He also ran a popular side business developing photographs, taken with his own camera, and printing them on to postcards for sale to his shipmates.

Brisbane decommissioned on August 4, 1922 and her crew commissioned the light cruiser HMAS Adelaide the following day where Evan spent almost four years, including her 1924 attachment to the RN’s Special Service Squadron. It was in Vancouver in July 1924, that Evan was introduced to Miss Ida Gwendolyn Wright, whom he would marry some 17 years later.

He returned to Tingira in June 1926 for instructional duties until the boys training ship decommissioned in June 1927. A short stint in HMAS Penguin (ex Encounter) preceded service in HMAS Melbourne, on her decommissioning cruise to England.

Melbourne decommissioned at Portsmouth on April 23, 1928 and her crew transferred to the newly built heavy cruiser HMAS Australia which commissioned the following day. The cruiser departed Portsmouth in August 1928 for Australia via the Americas and the Pacific.
YOUNGSTER: Evan Allan attached to the training ship HMAS Tingira. Photo courtesy of the Blake family

YOUNGSTER: Evan Allan attached to the training ship HMAS Tingira.
Photo courtesy of the Blake family.

On August 6, 1928, Australia was in the North Atlantic en route to Montreal when Evan was swept overboard with heavy seas running in force eight winds. He and several other crew were attempting to recover the starboard breakwater door which was adrift on the forecastle. He suffered from shock caused by immersion and contusions to one leg, the latter the result of the heavy seas bumping his body against the cruiser’s hull when he was hauled back onboard.

In 1929 he was drafted to Sydney to join the depot and accommodation ship HMAS Penguin (ex HMAS Platypus). Evan was promoted to Chief Petty Officer in April 1932 and returned to sea in 1933 when he served firstly in the seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross and then commissioned the Scott Class Flotilla Leader HMAS Stuart.

This was followed by more than two years service in the Flagship HMAS Canberra.
His colourful careeer continued when, in 1937, Evan was honoured as one of a select group of 25 senior sailors chosen as the naval detachment of the Australian Coronation Contingent that embarked in the SS Oronsay in February 1937 for passage to England to attend the coronation of King George VI.

After the outbreak of World War II, he was drafted to the armed merchant cruiser HMS Moreton Bay and active service on the China Station, the East Indies Station and then in the South Atlantic on patrol and convoy escort duties. Moreton Bay decommissioned in August 1941 and arrangements were made to return her Australian crew via the United States and Canada. This provided the opportunity for Evan to re-establish contact with Gwen in Vancouver, Canada, where they promptly married.

Evan was promoted from the lower deck in July 1942. In July 1944 Evan was posted to HMAS Ladava, the RAN depot at Milne Bay in New Guinea, for service as the Piermaster.
From Ladava, Evan was appointed again to the cruiser Australia as the ship’s boatswain, replacing Boatswain Cyril Deighton who had been injured in the Japanese Kamikaze attacks at Leyte Gulf.

Evan was flown to Seeadler Harbour but missed his connection with Australia by only a matter of hours, the ship having already sailed for operations at Lingayen Gulf. In a twist of fate, Sub Lieutenant Keith Levy, who performed the duties of boatswain during Evan’s absence, was killed in action when Australia was struck by another Kamikaze plane on January 5, 1945.

Evan retired from the Navy in 1947, after serving the nation for more than 33 years. He is survived by his daughter, Judith Blake, son-in-law and two grandchildren.

I would like to express my appreciation to Judith for her generous assistance in researching her father’s service history.


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