b. 14/06/1931 Stepney, London.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 17/10/1948 Portland, Dorset.
Alfred Raymond Lowe (1931-) was born on 14th June 1931 in London, the eldest son of Alfred Joseph Henry Lowe and his wife Emma (nee Elliott). The Lowes lived at Silvertown, Custom House in the city. His father was a labourer with the Tate & Lyle Sugar Company, while prior to their marriage, Emma was a housemaid. In September 1936, Alfred junior and his two siblings, June and Joyce, were placed into Barnardo’s Home in Poplar, as their mother was going into hospital with pregnancy complications, prior to the birth of Geoffrey. Whilst at Barnardo’s, Alf and his sister Joyce were fostered for six months by Mr and Mrs Beguely, who lived in Suffolk.
On their return to their parents, the family was now living in Dagenham, Essex, where Alf attended his only few months of schooling until 1943 when he was nearly 12. Over the next four years saw a series of evacuations and reunions. They were first moved to Lowestoft, and twice to Somerset. He got into trouble whilst in Somerset, having beaten up some bullies who had picked on his brother Geoff. When back in London, Alf’s behaviour continued to deteriorate with older boys and the police placed him on probation. The Probation Officer, who discovered that Alf had been a Barnardo’s Boy, asked him what he wanted to do with his life. Alf’s reply…..”When I grow up I want to join the Navy”.
The Probation Officer quickly made arrangements for Alf to join the Watts Naval School at East Dereham in Norfolk where the intake was reserved for boys from Barnardo’s. There the discipline was strict but the teaching was superb, and it allowed Alf to thrive, and by the age of 14, he had gained a scholarship to the Royal Navy and joined HMS Ganges in Ipswich on 7th January 1946.
After 11 months of training and schooling at HMS Ganges, he was drafted to his first ship, a light cruiser HMS Diadem, but to his own disappointment, it didn’t embark to sea in his six months on board. At last in March 1948 on board HMS Illustrious he set sail in the English Channel. On 17th October 1948, in Portland Harbour, Dorset, a liberty boat returning from Weymouth Pier to HMS Illustrious with 51 men on board overturned and sank 50 to 100yds from the ship's stern. Lowe was trapped under the canopy but struggled free and surfaced. He saw a lifebelt a short distance from him, which had been thrown from the Illustrious, and swam to it. He then removed his overcoat and shoes and swam towards the ship. When he was under the stern a line was thrown to him. At this moment he heard a faint cry of help and looking around saw that Midshipman Richard Clough, who was about 10yds away, was in great difficulty. Lowe grabbed the line and swam to him; Clough was unconscious by the time he reached him. He tried to turn him over to keep his head above water but could not, so he pulled him to the ship's side. A fog buoy was lowered, and he managed to drag Clough onto it and hold on to him until a petty officer came down the rope to assist him. Together they secured him until he was hoisted on board. Sadly, Clough died half an hour later from severe shock.
Alf Lowe was awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving at Sea on 8th February 1949, and received his medal on 1st March 1949 at Buckingham Palace. He was now part of the crew of HMS Implacable, and whilst anchored in Aberdeen, he found out about his award. In May 1950 he joined the troop ship “Empire Orwell” to take troops and sailors to change over the crew of HMS Concord in Hong Kong. Before leaving, he became engaged to Hilda May Denham, and after a two and a half years stint at sea and service in the Korean War, they married in 1953. At this point, Alf chose to leave the Royal Navy with a rank of Leading Seaman, discharged by purchase. He then became a commercial salesman in Portsmouth.
By 1963, Alf and Hilda had two children but the lack of opportunities saw them decide to emigrate to New Zealand, and they settled on the North Shore of Auckland. It was in Auckland that Alf began a successful career as a commercial travelling salesman. In 1982, Alf and Hilda divorced, and Alf decided build a new house and a new boat. He then decided to sail his newly built boat around the Pacific Islands. In November 1998, he married Philippa Grise (nee Newbery).
In 1971, following a change in the Royal Warrant, Alf chose to exchange his Albert Medal for the George Cross. His Albert Medal is currently displayed at HMS Raleigh, Plymouth, Devon. Alf regularly attends the biannual reunions of the VC & GC Association, and lives happily in retirement in Bayswater, New Zealand.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: WITH RECIPIENT.
Medals courtesy of Aubrey Bairstow