Alan Ross was born in Calcutta, India in 1922; aged 7 he was sent to Falmouth, England, to be educated at prep school then Haileybury. In 1940 he went to read Modern Languages at St John’s College, Oxford where he was a contemporary of Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis. In 1941 Ross joined the Royal Navy and served on several destroyers escorting supply ships to the Soviet Union. On December 30th 1942 he was almost killed whilst serving aboard the HMS Onslow, the leading destroyer in a convoy assigned to fend off a flotilla of German ships in what became known as the Battle of the Barents Sea.
Ross was ordered to take a turn controlling a fire below in the forward part of the ship and was sealed in for half an hour with a hose, armpit-deep in water, the bodies of two gun crew washing against him .. vividly described in his poem ‘J.W.51B a convoy’ and in his memoirs. For a year before his demobilisation in 1946 he was attached to the Naval Staff in West Germany. After demobilisation he did not resume his studies but turned to journalism instead. His first volume of poetry The Derelict Day, was published in 1946 and contained poems written during his time in the Navy.
His poems vividly capture the fear, boredom, relentless cold and the inhospitable circumstances of being at sea.
I think they are some of the finest of all war poems, and I am staggered as well as appalled that they are so regularly overlooked by commentators on the poetry of the Second World War. John Lucas, Second World War Poetry in English, p. 191
Resources for Alan Ross
The Derelict Day: Poems in Germany, Alan Ross (John Lehmann, 1947)
Photograph: Joe Waldorf