John Courlander, late of Dalkey Co Dublin, who joined The Probus Club of Dún Laoghaire Marine in 2008 and was an Emeritus member, passed away peacefully on 2nd February 2018 at the age of 97.
John was born in Watford in 1920 and spent his early childhood in London, not far from Regents Park. His family moved to the South of France in 1924 and returned permanently to England in 1930. John was educated near Bournemouth and after school enlisted with the Royal Navy as an apprentice engineer. He became a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm of the Navy, then part of the RAF.
John first flew a Fairey Swordfish II, a torpedo bomber against U Boats, that was also used in reconnaisance. John’s flying training regime involved extremely precise runway landing to prepare him to land on an aircraft carrier. Takeoff was always into the wind which sometimes required an aircraft carrier sailing in cross winds to manoeuvre into the wind. John flew 17 different aircraft types in the course of the war and navigation throughout depended on map-reading skills and the observation of visual landmarks, such as railway tracks.
He was decorated twice for gallantry before being awarded The Arctic Star by the British Ambassador to Ireland, HE Dominick Chilcott CMG, in January 2014. The Arctic Star was awarded in recognition of service in or support of the Arctic Convoys that provided essential supplies to the Soviet Union during World War II from August 1941 to May 1945.
There were 78 convoys altogether consisting of 35 merchant ships and 20 naval vessels. These had to travel via the Arctic Circle, around the northern tip of Norway. It was dark for up to 23 of the 24 hours in a day in winter, as convoys advanced to the Russian port of Murmansk. This route was necessary to avoid a joint Finnish-German blockade. The convoys delivered 4 million tons of fuel, medicine and food, sometimes receiving Russian gold and timber as payment.
Conditions were very harsh. The flying conditions were extreme but the convoys brought some relief to the citizens of Leningrad during the brutal 1,000-day German siege of that city.
Some 20,000 personnel took part in the Arctic Convoys but fewer than 200 had survived when this award was created in 2012. John was one of three veterans in Ireland to be honoured.
At a later stage in his life John was Secretary of the RNLI in Dún Laoghaire and a member of Rathmichael Historical Society.