John Niven Angus Low GC (EGM exchanger)

b. 25/08/1910 Harwich, Essex. d. 29/04/1940 North Sea.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 29/04/1940 North Sea.

John Niven Angus Low (1910-1940) was born on 25th August 1910 in Harwich, Essex, the eldest son of Captain William Augustus John and Annie Cook Low (nee Snowball). John’s father was a Trinity pilot and the family lived in Harwich. John attended Ipswich School from 1922-1925 until he was 14, when he left to train on HMS Worcester for the Merchant Navy. His training ended on 14th April 1927 as a Class Cadet Captain.

John N A Low GC

John began his career in the Merchant Navy with Kaye Sons & Co Ltd, before joining the New Zealand Shipping Company. He served on ships such as “Otaio”, “Remuera”, “Horarata”, “Somerset” and “Kent” as well as periods on dock office duty. He passed his 2nd Mate Certificate in April 1930 and his 1st Mate’s on 6th July 1932. He was promoted to Third Officer in 1933.

In November 1935, he decided to change career and joined the Submarine Service becoming a Lieutenant, having taken a Submarine Course at HMS Dolphin. In 1937, he transferred from the Royal Naval Reserve to the Royal Navy, and joined the crew of HM Sub “Seahorse” in October that year. After a stint on HM Sub “Narwahl”, he joined HM Sub “Unity” in April 1939.

Low became First Lieutenant  and HM Sub “Unity” moved to HMS Elflin at Blyth, Northumberland. John married Margery Russell-Walling of Mayfield, Dundee who was a 3rd Officer, WRNS.

On 29th April 1940, in the North Sea, HM Sub “Unity” was struck by the Norwegian freighter “Atle Jarl” at night. At the time, Low and Able Seaman Henry Miller were on duty in the submarine control room. When the order to abandon ship was given by the submarine’s commander, they were instrumental in helping every crew member to escape. The captain asked for the main motors to be stopped and Miller volunteered to do this. The submarine sank in a few minutes, with only Miller and Low still on board. All the rest of the crew were rescued, except for 2 crew who drowned during the night.

Low’s body was not recovered from the North Sea. On 16th August 1940, both John Low and Henry Miller were awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal. Less than a month later, following the creation of the George Cross, both men were part of the four posthumous EGM awards who qualified to be able to have their next of kin be able to exchange. John’s widow received his GC at Buckingham Palace on 23rd April 1948. John’s medals including his GC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, and War Medal 1939-45 are privately held.





Thomas Stewart – Image of Low GC’s name on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.