Today saw the first veterans of the World War II Arctic Convoys receive the first Arctic Star medals from Prime Minister David Cameron, recognising, at long, long last their service in these primally challenging convoys.
Jock Dempster, from Dunbar and a former President of the Russian Convoy Club Scotland, was on this evening’s news talking to camera of what the medal meant to him and of some of the most testing incidents he had witnessed during his own service on the convoys – starting as a 16 year old boy.
Many veterans are, in this signal year of national recognition, making the journey to Aultbea on Loch Ewe for what has become an annual memorial ceremony there for the convoys and those who served on them. Many of the convoys gathered at Loch Ewe before they sailed to Murmansk and Archangel.
Wrapped around the annual memorial ceremony is now a week long programme of events relevant to the convoys and to the second World War – organised by the innovative Russian Arctic Convoy Museum project. This is dedicated to the establishment of a permanent commemorative archive of the convoys right where so many of them departed, too often not to return.
Local Cub Scouts from 1st Wester Ross have been helping the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Project team in the countdown for the 2013 WWII and the Arctic Convoys Week.
Cub Scouts Jack Cooper (10) and David Hannaford (8) are keen to learn more about the Convoys and will be taking part in several of the events in May. They are particularly looking forward to meeting and talking with some of the 40 Veterans who will be attending the Veterans Reunion during the WWII Week.
Museum Project Manager Jacky Brookes explains: ‘We feel it is very important that our local youngsters, as well as the wider community and visitors, have the opportunity to join the 40 Arctic Convoy Veterans during our unique ‘Veterans Reunion’ and have chance to talk to them – a rare opportunity to learn firsthand from those that took part in the WWII Arctic Convoys. Our local schools are invited to several of our events and they have jumped at the opportunity.
‘In fact, we are delighted that our local cadets from ATC 832 (Wester Ross ) Squadron will be giving a talk entitled ‘What do we think really happened to the USAAF Liberator at Fairy Lochs?’ on Monday 6th May during the afternoon, at Aultbea Village Hall. This follows the walk to Fairy Lochs on that Monday morning. Their keenness to be involved demonstrates clearly the interest that the younger generation has in the history and heritage of our area.’
And now, as Jacky Brookes intends, we cannot wait to find out what the USAAF Liberator at Fairy Lochs was all about.
Other events taking place in and around Aultbea during WWII Week include archaeological walks and talks, a Families Reunion, wartime cookery demonstration, a Film and Acoustic Night and talks from specialists including Captain Richard Woodman, author, Grant McMillan medial historian and Jak Mallmann Showell, U-Boat expert.
Further information about WWII and the Arctic Convoys Week is here at the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum website where you can find the full Programme of Events and book tickets in advance.
Anyone wishing to volunteer to help the Museum team during the Veterans Reunion please call 01445 731093.
Details of how veterans and next of kin can apply for the Arctic Star medal are also available on the website linked above – with application forms for Veterans or next of kin.
Note: The photographs shows Jack Cooper (left) aged 10 from Gairloch and David Hannaford aged 8 from Poolewe, who have helped the Museum Project group to launch the countdown to WWII Week at the business showcase event ‘All About Gairloch’.