b. 04/12/1914 Port Gordon, Scotland. d. 12/12/1999 Inverness, Scotland.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 19/03/1943 Tripoli, Libya.
George Preston Stronach (1912-1999) was born on 4th December 1914 in Port Gordon on the Moray Coast in Scotland. He was the son of Alexander and Georgina Stronach (nee Preston), who had married in 1901. George was one of seven children and their father was a blacksmith for a local farmer.
George attended both Balnacoul School in Banff and Milne’s Institution in Fochabers. He took up an apprenticeship with Peebles the Chemist in Elgin but following a cycling accident, he decided to take up a career on the sea. His local Church minister helped him gain a place at Gravesend Sea School in 1932. He first became a Deck Boy on the “Albion Star” in North Shields. After two voyages he left the ship and enrolled at sea school to obtain his Efficient Deck Hand Certificate. He then made nine voyages aboard “Pacific Exporter” and became an Able Seaman.
After passing his 2nd Mate’s exam in 1937 he joined the Clan Line and was appointed 4th Officer on the “Clan Mactavish” sailing as far as Calcutta. He was promoted to 3rd Officer. In November 1939 he left the company to sit his Mate’s exam which he passed in 1940. He then moved to Glasgow and became 2nd Officer of the “Baron Stanraer”. In March 1941 he was promoted to Chief Officer then sat for his Master’s Certificate in 1942 and transferred to “Ocean Voyager” at Liverpool in August 1942.
At the end of July 1942, the ship was requisitioned and began to load a military cargo for the Middle East. On 5th August George was appointed Chief Officer obtaining his Master’s Certificate soon afterwards. On 19th March 1943, the harbour at Tripoli, Libya, was attacked by bombers and the SS Ocean Voyager caught fire. The ship had a large consignment of petrol and ammunition on board; the ammunition began exploding, and, in spite of strenuous efforts to fight the fires, she had to be abandoned. The ship’s master had been killed and responsibility for further operations fell to Stronach. He had been rendered unconscious but recovered almost immediately and went to look for survivors. He found a number of the crew sheltering in an alleyway and, braving the exploding ammunition, he led them to a boat alongside, which took them to safety. He stayed on board to provide for the transport of any other survivors who might be found, and then lowered another boat and brought it alongside the ship. Although the ship was now burning fiercely, he went to the officers’ accommodation and found a badly injured deck officer, and despite the intense heat, he pulled him clear and put him in the rescue boat. He then rescued a buried crew mate, and helped him to the rescue boat. When he was satisfied there were no more survivors, he jumped overboard and swam to a raft.
For his actions that day, George was awarded the George Cross on 19th November 1943. The 2nd Engineer Hezekiah Holtham received the George Medal. After recovering from the back injury sustained, he returned home for a short time. By the end of 1943 he was back relieving the First Mate of the “Baron Inchcape” at Hull before being appointed to the Clyde Pilotage Authority to become a licensed pilot. In 1968 he became Pilot Master and held this post until retirement in 1979.
He married Marion MacDonald and they had a son Norman and a daughter Mhaira. Sadly both his wife and son pre-deceased him. He was elected a member of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners in 1973. He was also a Scout Master of his church Scout group in Greenock. He lived in later life in Mosstodloch, Moray and the Acharacle. George died on 12th December 1999 in Inverness, and was buried in the churchyard at Acharacle. His GC medal group was then owned by his daughter Mhaira, who for a time, loaned them to HMS President on the Thames. On 10th May 2017, Mhaira sold them at Dix Noonan Webb for £216,000. The purchaser was Michael Ashcroft and they are now on display at the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM (£216,000)
BURIAL PLACE: ACHARACLE CHURCH, ACHARACLE, SCOTLAND.
Steve Lee – Image of the Stronach GC Replica GC group on HMS President.