Born: February 3 1918;

Died: January 9 2019

Irene Allan, or Miss Allan as she was known to many, who has died aged 100, intercepted enemy messages in the Second World War.

She was born in Wrexham, North Wales in 1918 to a Scottish father from Glasgow and an English mother. Her father had met her mother while he was serving an apprenticeship in Engineering at Ruabon, North Wales and they married and set up home in Wrexham where Irene and her older brother, Gordon, were born. After a few years the family relocated to Glasgow, living in the West End, in a sizeable flat in Dowanside Road where Irene continued to reside for many decades.

Irene’s father was an organist and the family attended Gilmorehill Church of Scotland at the foot of University Avenue. From an early age, church attendance and the Christian faith were a big part of Irene’s life.

Irene was educated at the Glasgow High School for Girls and on leaving school, her first job was as a Social Care Worker with physically disabled adults in a project run by the Glasgow United Evangelistic Association. As part of her work, Irene held weekly meetings at the Tent Hall, an evangelistic centre located off Saltmarket, and in summer she took groups of 12 by boat from Glasgow to the Holiday Home in Dunoon. Irene was 21 when the Second World War began and in due course she was called up; she served in Yorkshire, on one of the Intercept Stations where enemy messages were intercepted and the coded information sent on to Bletchley Park.

It was in 1955 that Irene said she made a definite commitment to accept Jesus as her saviour; before that she had felt that she was working for God, but now she had a personal relationship with Him. After Irene’s father died suddenly of a heart attack, Irene and her mother began attending Hillhead Baptist Church and eventually became members there. Irene taught in the Sunday School, helped at the Youth Club and in the Partick Mission, and took a girls’ sewing class. In the early 1960s, Irene had what she described as “a call from God which was never a natural inclination” to go and work with alcoholics and homeless people. She started to apply for jobs with organisations which worked with alcoholics but nothing materialised. She then applied for a job as Psychiatric Social Worker at Stobhill Hospital and was successful. She had a large caseload of alcoholics, mostly men, and learned on the job, in the days before training and qualifications, about the grim realities of alcohol addiction. Her work involved ward-rounds, prison visits, court attendances and advocacy.

In 1964, Irene started a gospel meeting in the Methodist Central Halls in Maryhill Road for people struggling with alcoholism and the hall was usually full to capacity. In the 1970s her gospel meeting was held in Adelaide Place Baptist Church to cater for people nearer the city centre. She wanted to see the men and their families get spiritual help as well as medical intervention. Irene also started to invite some of the men to her church, (Hillhead Baptist) with the support of the then Minister, Rev Kerr Spiers. In 1974 he established the Friendship Room in the church in order to provide a meeting place where pastoral care could be offered for those in need. Irene, however, became troubled that many of the attendees were homeless and some were sleeping rough. One day she received a phone call from a lady who wished to give her a house to use for her work. Spurred on by this gift, Irene then raised money to buy five small flats in Finnieston, all furnished with donated goods, in which the men could be permanently accommodated. Irene ran the flats singlehandedly as Hostels at a time when there was no such provision in Glasgow. Gradually over the years, there was an increasing awareness of the problem of alcoholism in the city and eventually the City Council set up six purpose-built Hostels, replacing the flats run by Irene.

With Irene’s patient, but at times firm, encouragement, and Christian teaching, many men in her care got free from alcohol addiction and went on to have fairly stable lives. Irene faithfully continued her work, in a voluntary capacity, with various men and some women, through the decades: helping to get a Council flat, budget their money or find a job in some cases. She held her regular Friday night meeting in the church hall for many years until she became too frail to leave her house when she was about 95 years old.

Irene was kind-hearted and would help anyone who was in need. Over the years she has ministered to myriad people, especially those with addiction and mental health issues. She also took in female students of whom I was one, who rented rooms in her house, and regularly opened her home for hospitality and large social gatherings, fortified by her wonderful home baking. She spent very little money on herself, preferring to use her resources to enrich others’ lives. She always owned a car and often took elderly people out for coffee. Nobody who got to know Irene could ever forget her. She took an interest in everyone she met and formed links with many different churches. In 2008 she wrote a book entitled Peace in Chaos, about how to find peace and joy in a world full of trouble and strife.

When Irene was about 99 years old, due to her increasing frailty, she moved into Clarence Court Care Home where she spent her last years. She remained bright and loved to see visitors. She celebrated her 100th birthday there, surrounded by many of her friends. It was with sadness that we learned of her passing in hospital, at the age of nearly 101, after a long life dedicated to serving and helping others.

Margaret P. Roy