Antony Trew, the author of 16 novels and a volume of short stories, was a modest man who rarely spoke of the war record which earned him the Distinguished Service Cross for commanding a South African Naval Forces whaler carrying supplies to Tobruk, and a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Walker, principally employed in protecting Russian convoys in the Arctic.
His career as a writer of naval adventures and thrillers began late, three years before his retirement from the Automobile Association of South Africa, of which he was Director-General, with the publication of Two Hours to Darkness in 1963. It was a best-seller, with 3.5 million copies in print in 16 languages. On the back of it he settled in Surrey, and steadily built a reputation as a fine story-teller whose work at its best recalls the tense cat-and- mouse games of warship and U-boat, icy waters, human frailty. He writes simply and with authenticity, drawing on his own experiences at sea and in southern Africa, which he loved.
Born in Pretoria in 1906, Trew left school at 16 to go to sea as an officer cadet with the Union Castle Line. A commission in the South African Naval Service followed, from 1926 to 1929. During the Depression he took a series of civilian jobs, and in 1933 became the Transvaal Secretary of the fledgling Automobile Association of South Africa, with a membership of a mere 6,000. When the call-up came at the outbreak of the Second World War he commanded various mine-sweeping and patrol vessels, then, from December 1940, served for a year as Lieutenant-Commander in the 22nd A/S Group, the first South African armed forces unit to enter the Mediterranean theatre.
The next two years were spent in a staff job, overseeing the repair of naval vessels in Cape Town, after which, anxious to get back to sea, Trew asked to be seconded to the Royal Navy; after another spell in the Mediterranean he attended the Senior Officers' Staff Course at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. …