11 January 1940 - 24 May 1966
Memorial to John Noel and Tom Allen at Stonington. Photograph Ian Sykes.
Tom Allan, a diesel mechanic and John Noel, a radio operator, were overcome by a fearsome storm at the end of May 1966 whilst sledging from the BAS base at Stonington Island.
They left base on 24 May with two dog teams to make a ten day traverse, heading up the Northeast Glacier then northward past Butson Ridge. Twenty four hours later they reported reaching Butson Ridge but in deteriorating weather. By the next day the wind at Stonington was gusting at a hundred knots and shaking the huts so hard that things were falling from the shelves. Two days of storm was followed by a week of fine weather but there was no further news from the field party.
A search party found them with several dead dogs above Square Bay. Tom Allan lay on the surface fifty yards from John Noel who was apparently standing buried in the snow, his head and arms above the surface. It appears that they had dug a snow hole but that at some time Tom had left its protection to raise the dog's picket line above the rapidly rising snow level or perhaps to refill the paraffin can. It is surmised that Tom had not been able to find his way back to the shelter of the snow hole and John had stood at the entrance calling and keeping it open for his return until the blizzard overcame him.
Writing of the incident in Of Ice and Men, Sir Vivien Fuchs says "It was a tremendous example of courage that he remained to the last, and most assuredly he gave his life for his friend."
They were buried on a rocky point of Stonington Island beneath two great piles of stones surmounted by a cross. The cross and inscription plate were donated by Tom Allen's Masonic Lodge. Two mountains were named after them Mount Allen and Mount Noel in the Traverse Mountains on the Rymill Coast.
Tom’s elder sister Elma writes, "Tom was brought up with his two sisters and brother in Innerleithen, Peeblesshire At the age of fifteen he was 'Dux Boy' the top pupil at Leithenside School. He later served an apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner with Ballentyres in Innerleithen, attending evening classes in Galashiels and Edinburgh. He obtained his HNC Certificate as top student of the year at Napier Training College. The following year he attended Moray House teacher training college, graduating as a technical teacher."
Tom's ability as a carpenter and wood carver proved their worth on base when he created a magnificent sign to be placed over the bar entitled Ye Compleat Fidde and showing a dog driver lying on a Nansen sledge lounging against the handlebars with his feet up on a husky similarly somnolent - or worse.
Elma also wrote, "Tom’s interests were always to do with the outdoors although Tom also enjoyed being at home with the family and their Alsatian dogs. He also took care of extensive house repairs. He was a member of the Scottish YHA, enjoying horse riding, skiing, canoeing, rock climbing and bringing stags down off the hills, on horseback, at Loch Morlich. He also enjoyed canoeing, going on long distance river trips in canoes he had built himself. Before sailing for the Antarctic on the John Biscoe, in October 1965, he was interviewed on Border Television. After spending Christmas and New Year at Port Stanley he travelled further South to the base at Stonington Island."
Dorothy Allen's daughter Marion Hughes writes, "Tom Allan is my mother's brother, my uncle I sadly never knew . My memories are made of story's my late Grandmother (Tom's mum) told me as I was growing up . My first memories of these were sitting with the family looking at slides on the wall through an old fashioned projector . Tom was a great photographer and the slides showed even in the hardest conditions he could entertain everyone . Tom was talented musician and he entertained everyone with a mix of instruments he took out with him including a mandolin an accordion and even I believe a piano !! I wasn't born till 1971 to Tom's youngest sister Dorothy . But my granny told me enough that I feel I did know him in a round about way .
"I would like to say what a great things you guys are doing . I never knew so many people have lost family in the Antarctic and it's been really nice to read through their stories and know they are not forgotten . Unlike my Uncle I'm not one who likes travel but I look forward to the day when I can bring my family down to London to see the memorial and tell them all about it."
Tom at work.