Remembering the Arctic Convoys

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SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, Rob Gibson, has called for proper recognition for those who braved their lives to serve in the Arctic convoys during World War II.
 
Mr Gibson was leading a debate in the Scottish Parliament in which he criticised the repeated delays in creating a medal for those who served and called on the Prime Minister to “personally intervene, knock heads together and announce the creation of a campaign medal without any further delay”.


SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross Rob Gibson has called for proper recognition for those who braved their lives to serve in the Arctic convoys during World War II.
 
Mr Gibson was leading a debate in the Scottish Parliament in which he criticised the repeated delays in creating a medal for those who served and called on the Prime Minister to “personally intervene, knock heads together and announce the creation of a campaign medal without any further delay”.

In his speech Mr Gibson paid tribute to those who served in the convoys and highlighted the importance of a proposed museum in Loch Ewe to tell the story of the convoys saying:

“The planned Russian Arctic Convoy Museum underlines the importance of highlighting the legacy of the WWII Russian Arctic Convoys is central to the project.  It is to the memory of all of these brave men who sailed on the convoys, and the many (over three thousand men) who lost their lives, that the local community around Loch Ewe in the North West Highlands of Scotland are planning a Museum.”


The route the convoys took was particularly hazardous, not only due to the horrendous weather and the dangers of drifting icebergs, but also because of the close proximity of German forces who had occupied Norway.


Joined in the chamber by veterans of the Convoy Mr Gibson said:
 
On August 20th this year three hundred people, veterans, families, supporters, Prince Michael of Kent, various diplomats such as the consul general in Scotland for the Russian Federation, Sergei Krutikov, a Norway diplomat and military attaches from Canada and the USA, local dignitaries, sea scouts, sea cadets, air cadets, who ably marshalled the traffic on narrow roads, the Merchant Shipping Association, Royal British Legion branches joined a dozen veterans of the Russian Arctic convoys to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first of which codenamed ‘Dervish’ left Loch Ewe seventy before they encountered the rigours of the Arctic supply route to Archangel and Murmansk  the ice-free ports of our Soviet allies.
 
The Arctic convoys of World War Two carried vital supplies to the northern Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel from September 1941 until December 1944. From September 1942 the convoy of merchant ships accompanied by Royal Naval protection vessels were based at Loch Ewe.
 
The route the convoys took was particularly hazardous, not only due to the horrendous weather and the dangers of drifting icebergs, but also because of the close proximity of German forces who had occupied Norway.

Winston Churchill called it “the worst journey in the world”.
 
Loch Ewe in Wester Ross was the WW2 gathering place for merchant ships. Annual remembrance is conducted there, so last month we stood by the Russian Convoy Club memorial at Cove on the southern shore at the rocky mouth of Loch Ewe erected in 1999. Rain and wind, although thankfully not cold, set the scene. Decaying gun emplacements and pill boxes still litter the scene.

Recognition of this campaign and of the few survivors still alive has been sought for years.

One campaigner, Commander Eddie Grenfell, originally from Peterhead has said:

“The campaign was also in a different geographical sphere with separate aims to the Battle of the Atlantic. I sailed in both campaigns and while the Battle of the Atlantic was tough, the Arctic campaign was unimaginably worse.”

Prior to winning power back in 1997, Labour said it would create an Arctic Star, only to refuse to allow any recognition and then eventually grudgingly producing an Arctic Emblem in 2006 after a long campaign by veterans.

However, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in opposition also promised to create an Arctic Star. Defence minister Gerald Howarth has since made sure it is included in a review of how medals are sanctioned.

An early day motion by SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson has been signed by 47 MPs from almost every political party in the House of Commons.

What better moment to do it is there than the 70th anniversary of the convoys.

The Ministry of Defence is dragging its feet as usual and so the Prime Minister should personally intervene, knock heads together and announce the creation of a campaign medal without any further delay.

But a spokeswoman for the MoD said that the veterans would have to wait until later this year for the medal review to be completed.

Jock Dempster, of Dunbar, chairman of the Russian Convoy Club in Scotland, has said:

The problem is that the MoD have always dragged their feet.

“I think it is partly because they still are suspicious towards Russia. But actually the Arctic convoys should be used as a bridge to build friendship between us and Russia.”

“In fact, the Russians have given the Arctic veterans three memorial medals and regularly invite them as guests of honour to Second World War commemorations and receptions where they are feted by the country’s leading politicians.

“The last time I visited Russia with other veterans we were met with marching bands, parades and some of the most senior officers in the navy. Sadly, we have never been afforded the same recognition in this country.

“Last year the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Edinburgh Sergey Krutikov honoured the veterans at a ceremony in Edinburgh.”

“He said, “The long-standing bond of friendship which existed between the Russian people and the veterans during the war has become even stronger since. The Russians have never forgotten the ultimate sacrifice made by the 2,800 seamen who never returned to our shores.

Jock added: “I believe that having joined the Merchant Navy aged 16. A total of 104 Merchant ships, 20 Royal Navy ships, a submarine and two armed whalers were lost. Germany lost 31 submarines.”

CAITHNESS was well represented at the Loch Ewe ceremony
 
Sandy Manson from John O’Groats was present at loch Ewe last month, who is 87, served on HMS Matchless on the Arctic convoys for over a year between 1943 and 1944.  He recalled that the temperatures were regularly 40 degrees below zero in winter with only about half an hour of daylight at that time.
 
Reay Clarke from Edderton in Easter Ross was also present. He joined HMS Farndale as an ordinary seaman.

From Scapa, we went along the north coast of Scotland and then down the west coast as far as Loch Ewe. 30 merchant ships were all anchored here in this part of Loch Ewe and the naval ships were also gathered.
 
“Farndale was disengaged from the convoy and we came back to Scapa Flow escorting a ship that had been damaged and couldn’t make it as far as Murmansk. The Germans actually managed to sink 10 merchant ships out of those 40.  Of course the crews were lost as well.”

The planned Russian Arctic Convoy Museum underlines the importance of highlighting the legacy of the WWII Russian Arctic Convoys is central to the project. It is to the memory of all of these brave men who sailed on the convoys, and the many (over three thousand men) who lost their lives, that the local community around Loch Ewe in the North West Highlands of Scotland are planning a Museum.
 
They want to be in contact as many people as possible who are interested in our project. All of this will help us to create a website and Museum that are as accurate and informative as possible and a fitting legacy to those who took part in this remarkable part of history.
 
Presiding Officer, I lodged a motion of support for a permanent museum to the Russian Arctic convoys which assembled at Loch Ewe in Wester Ross between 1941 and 1944.
 
I was proud to attend the service of remembrance and thanksgiving held at the Russian Convoy club memorial at Cove at the mouth of Loch Ewe.

The esteem in which the veterans in their white berets are held in countries across the globe needs to be met by financial support for the fundraising for a Russian Arctic Convoy museum at Aultbea on Loch Ewe. I want to see the Highland Council, Scottish and UK governments play their part.