October 30, 2005 by

William Evan Allan

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Categories: Military

William Evan Allan, the last Australian veteran to actively serve in World War I and World War II, died on Oct. 17. Cause of death was not released. He was 106.
Born in 1899, Allan enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy when he was only 14 years old. From 1915 to 1918, Allan served as an able seaman on the HMAS Encounter, escorting troop convoys and tracking German merchant boats and warships. Once the Great War ended, he remained in the service for more than three decades, rising through the ranks and serving on the Navy’s Coronation Contingent for the coronation of King George VI in 1937.
Allan survived the Spanish flu pandemic, which killed more than two dozen of his shipmates, and nearly drowned in the North Atlantic in 1928 when he fell overboard during a storm. Although the captain of his ship was unwilling to lower a rowboat and possibly lose more of his men, he ordered the crew to save Allan by tossing a life preserver and a rope ladder into the water.
“I am like a cat,” Allan once said. “I’ve had several lives.”
The Melbourne resident met Ita “Gwen” Blakely in 1924 when his ship docked in Vancouver, Canada. The couple exchanged letters for 17 years before marrying on the SS Mariposa in 1941. They were honeymooning on Hawaii when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Allan then served aboard the HMAS Australia during World War II.
Allan retired as a lieutenant in 1947 and returned to Australia. He spent the rest of his life raising a family on a small farm in Somerville, Victoria. Gwen died in 1981.
Last week, Allan was honored with a state funeral.
Listen to an Interview With Allan

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