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Obituary: Alfred Bowers

Decorated naval officer who saw hazardous service on the Arctic convoys

    A true Cockney, Alf Bowers, who has died aged  97, may have started life within the sound of Bow Bells, but he ended up as a proud native of Grimsby. His father Jack, a hat-cutter, was a second generation East Ender married to Rose, née Berg. Jack’s father had adopted the first name Boaz as a surname and anglicised it to Bowers. Alf left school at 15 and became an electrician working in City of London banks.

    He did not have the opportunities of his younger brother Raymond, who became a Professor of Physics at Cornell University in the USA. In 1936 Alf was involved in the Battle of Cable Street in the East End where the Jews and dockers kept out Mosley’s marching fascists. He was also involved with the Communist affiliated Unity Theatre.

    Alf joined up voluntarily in 1940 to the Royal Navy and saw hazardous service on the Arctic convoys taking vital supplies to Russia, first as a wireman and eventually a petty officer. Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the convoys as “the worst journey in the world.” Alf  was also involved in the relief of the siege of Malta and the D Day landings. In later years he ran the Grimsby branch of AJEX.

    The honours for his role in the convoys came late in life, as it was not originally seen as an official part of the war effort. He received medals from Russia, then from the UK Government and eventually also France; a total of eight medals.

    One day during the Second World War, his ship came into Immingham (a few miles from Grimsby) which is where he met his wife Irene Bolton. She invited him back for Friday night dinner and the rest was a wonderful history of 72 years together. They married in Plymouth Synagogue because he could get shore leave there for a day.

    After the war the couple spent five years in London before moving to Grimsby to take over the DIY business (B. Bolton & Co) set up by Irene’s father.  Alf involved himself in many Grimsby community activities usually as a back bencher: the Humberside County Show; the Grimsby Chamber of Trade (of which he was President for one year); and the Grimsby Fabian Society. He was on the Synagogue Council, was its handyman and helped show visitors around the beautiful building. Whilst his wife ran the cheder each week Alf busied himself tending the shul garden. Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, who visits Grimsby each year to conduct the Yom Kippur services, described him as a “as a very special man, not just to me, but to all who had the privilege to know him. He was a huge personality  — warm, caring, funny  —  and an adoring grandfather.” 

    He is survived by his son John (now Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford) and grandchildren Emma, Hannah and Benjamin.



    Alfred Bowers: born Sept 29,1920.
    Died December 14, 2017