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Story of WW2 valour will not be forgotten; Seaman's tragic tale How name on Port of Menteith memorial sparked research.


Events leading to the death of a forgotten war hero have been uncovered thanks to efforts of a group of ex-ships radio officers, among them a Port of Menteith man.

On Remembrance Sunday last year, Rob Armstrong laid a wreath at the village's war memorial in homage to Chief Radio Officer James Dow who was killed on June 6, 1941 when the tramp steamer on which he was serving was bombed by the Luftwaffe . The 23-year-old merchant seaman was among 10 members of the crew and a gunner who were killed when the SS Queensberry went down in the North Sea, just 15 miles east of Montrose.

James was born in Stronmilichan, Argyll, and is believed to have been brought up in Port of Menteith. His family, who were gamekeepers, lived at Letter Farm, near the village.

He was buried at Drymen but his name is on the war memorial at the parish church in Port of Menteith. James' brother Alastair served as a flight lieutenant and survived the war.

Port of Menteith villager Rob, (74) a member of the church and a kirk elder there, worked as a commercial pilot for 33 years and also a radio operator on board ships.

He is also a member of the Radio Officers Association and he was able to call on the help of colleagues in the association in a bid to find out the circumstances behind the sinking of the Queensberry and James' death.

Rob told the Observer: "For quite a few years I have sat in Port of Menteith Parish Church close to our war memorial bearing James Dow's name and speculated over the tragic events which led to his death.

"Having started my sea-going career in 1964 as a 19-year-old third radio officer I clearly felt a bond with James and embarked on the search for information about his death."

Rob and his colleagues discovered that in the weeks leading up to the sinking the Queensberry had crossed the Atlantic to Buenos Aires before sailing across to Freetown, Sierra Leone. She left there on May 10, 1941, as part of a 47-ship convoy escorted by HMS Bulolo, an armed merchant cruiser.

The convoy arrived in the UK in early June and the Queensberry made its way to Oban, leaving the west coast port on June 3, 1941, loaded with animal fat and among a convoy of 37 merchant ships.

It was either late on June 5 or early June 6, 1941, that the Queensberry and other ships in the convoy were attacked by waves of German aircraft from a base in Norway.

James was chief radio officer on the ship and he had with him a junior radio officer, 17-year-old George Francis Hope.

Rob said: "The chief radio officer's action station was in the radio room while the junior manned a telephone. However, James told his junior to stay in the wireless room and he would go on the bridge. Sadly for James, a bomb struck the bridge about 1am on June 6 and killed several people including James and the captain.

"Bombs also landed on the hatches and very quickly the ship was on fire. A gun mounting at the rear of the bridge had its metal struts melted through in the intense heat of the fire. People on shore saw flashes out to sea and heard the sound of explosions.".

Lifeboats were launched and it is thought passing ships may have picked up survivors. George Hope was among 10 Queensberry crew rescued by the Montrose lifeboat and taken to safety.

Rob explained the Radio Officers Association aims to honour all those radio officers who lost their lives during war.

Their valour is recorded in the 'in memoriam' section of the ROA website but initially James' name was not included on that list.

However, thanks to the efforts of Rob and fellow members of the association the name of James Dow and details of the events leading up to his death have been added to the site.

"In the weeks leading up to his death, James transited the Atlantic twice in convoy and rounded the north coast of Scotland," added Rob.

"It is a particularly sad part of the story that having made that hazardous journey he was killed in a Luftwaffe aerial attack close to the east coast of Scotland and around a 100 miles from his home in Port of Menteith."

* As a postscript to the story of the Queensberry's sinking, in 2013, newspapers reported that large lumps of animal fat, thought to be from the ship, had washed up on St Cyrus beach following a number of storms.

Dog walkers found that their pets enjoyed eating the 'lard' but were later sick.

Key communication role is remembered Although the position of radio officer on ships is now obsolete, due to the advance of communication systems, Rob Armstrong and Radio Officers Association colleagues are making sure their once key role is not forgotten.

They have established a small radio officers exhibition at the tall ship 'Glenlee''moored at Pointhouse Quay alongside THETRANSPORT Museum in Glasgow, As part of the Glenlee's educational programme, Rob and fellow Radio Officers Association members give talks to schoolchildren on how radio officers enhanced the safety of life at sea in peacetime and war and in so doing honour their role in maritime history.

Having made the hazardous journey he was killed in Luftwaffe attack around a 100 miles from his home


Tribute Port of Menteith villager Rob Armstrong alongside the war memorial showing the name of James Dow

Bombed SS Queensberry was attacked by Luftwaffe off the east coast of Scotland in 1941
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Publication:Stirling Observer (Stirling, Scotland)
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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