Russia honours Scots veterans of Arctic Convoys

Reay, McHigh,Dempster,Osler

Scotland’s surviving veterans of the World War II Arctic or Russian Convoys have been honoured by Russia in the presentation of medals to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the war.

The convoys, many of which gathered at Loch Ewe in Sutherland, with naval escorts trained in Argyll, at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, sailed to bring munitions and food to Russia  – four million tons of it – between 1941 and 1945.

They operated with a high attrition rate when the German U-boats were dominant, forcing them to travel, where they could, at the worst time of the year in appalling conditions through the North Atlantic and round the North Cape to Murmansk.

At these times visibility was bad, offering some protection from long range German reconnaissance aircraft and, to a degree, from the U-boats themselves.

104 Merchant ships, 20 Royal Navy ships, a submarine and two armed whalers were lost in the convoys, with Germany losing 31 submarines.

The irony in today’s presentation (23rd April 2010) is that the convoy veterans are more honoured by Russia than by their own country.

Today, civilian pen pushers from the MoD, sent on administrative duties to Iraq, are given campaign medals. The Convoy Veterans remain discriminated against because they were members of the Merchant Navy and were not of the Royal Navy service for whom medals were considered appropriate.

Arctic StarAfter years of campaigning, Tony Blair’s government, on 7th March 2005 made a modest concession. The Arctic Star – known as the Arctic Emblem was created. This was not, of course, a medal but ‘an addition to medals’, a small campaign button to be worn on the left lapel. It’s about the size of a 5p piece but the veterans, rightly, wear it with a pride Britain should feel and recognise more aptly.

Russia regularly honours the Convoy Veterans to whom it acknowledges a great debt.

At today’s ceremony in Edinburgh, Consul General of the Russian Federation, Sergey Krutikov presented the commemorative medals to the thirty surviving Scots veterans, saying: ‘It is a great honour for me to carry out the wishes of the President of the Russian Federation and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces and present these medals to the British Russian Convoy veterans.

‘The Russians, like the British, have the same warm feelings for their veterans.

‘Today we are honouring those who fought our common enemy and did everything possible to achieve our Great Victory’.

Jock DempsterResponding on behalf of the veterans was Jock Dempster (left), featured in several articles in For Argyll’s continuing series on the Arctic Convoys.

Jock, who joined the Merchant Navy at 16 and today, at 81, believes he is the youngest surviving veteran,  and is Chair of the Russian Convoy Club Scotland, said: ‘This event marks a very special day for us.

‘The long-standing bond of friendship which existed between the Russian people and the veterans during the war has become even stronger since.

‘The medal is much appreciated for adding formal recognition of the critical role we played in shipping vital supplies to Murmansk and Archangel.

‘The Russians have never forgotten the ultimate sacrifice made by the 2,800 seamen who never returned to our shores’.

Since the UK Government cannot put an appreciation of valour above the classist meanness of spirit that governs our armed forces, can Scotland’s First Minister perhaps create a major Scottish honour for these veterans of what Churchill described as ‘sucide missions’ – while at least these men remain alive?

The photograph at the top is of four Arctic Convoy veterans at an international tribute to them at Loch Ewe in October 2008, where a memorial was raised to those who were lost in the convoys. They are, from the left: Reay Clarke, Jimmy McHugh, Jock Dempster and Jim Osler, a survivor of the most infamous convoy of all, PQ17.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Good to read of the continuing public honour that Russia affords to these veterans.

    We have substantial recordings of several members of the Arctic Convoy Club recounting their memories of those times, including some harrowing incidents – and good times!

    There is also a very informative public display at Aultbea on Loch Ewe, and plans for a WWII museum there in which the Arctic Convoy story would be bound to feature largely.

    NB Loch Ewe is definitely in Wester Ross, not in Sutherland!

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    Alex Gray April 23, 2010 10:14 pm Reply
  • I have been told that my paternal grandfather Lieutenant Commander RNR James Thomson was involved in these convoys. Is there anywhere I can check records to see if this family folklore is true?

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    Jan Crossley May 9, 2010 2:47 pm Reply
  • My father, John Forrest, served with the Royal Navy on the Arctic Convoys but has not had any contact with other veterans since the war. He would like information on how to contact the Russian Convoy club in Scotland – can anyone help with contact details please?

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    Fiona Cregan January 14, 2012 9:06 pm Reply
    • For Fiona Cregan: We’re putting you in touch with Jock Dempster, Chair of the Russian Convoys Association (Scotland); and with Roy Elwood who served on HMS Zambesi and who, with others, has written for us on his experiences.
      If your father would like to tell us of his time in tnhis unqiue service, we would be glad to publish it.

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      newsroom January 14, 2012 9:36 pm Reply
  • Hi, My father, AB John H Farrow DJX257007 was a gunner on HMS Trinidad. He is 92 yrs old (in good health & has amazing stories of his timeinside the convoys). He would be very interested in any information regarding the Artic Star Medal, the white berry and any information regarding former shipmates from HMS Trinidad. My thanks for your help.

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    Stuart Farrow September 20, 2012 8:01 pm Reply
    • my gradfather was on HMS Trinidad – i would love to know if your father knew him. Please do email me and i will advise further details.

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      will stephens September 6, 2013 2:06 pm Reply
  • My father was a Merchant Seaman in the Russian Convoys so we would like to claim posthumously for this medal on his behalf – could you please advise where we need to contact to do this, many thanks,
    Mike Butcher

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    mike butcher April 2, 2013 2:08 pm Reply
    • Go to this webpage: http://www.veterans-uk.info/arctic_star_index.htm
      It has the information you need and an application form
      Are you aware of the 2013 week of events run by the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum project at Loch Ewe in WesterRoss – the place where many of the Arctic Convoys gathered to sail for Murmansk?
      This year, the event has been honoured by being asked to host a ceremony for the award of the Arctic Star Medal.
      They’d be delighted to hear from you – and to see you at the event, which runs fro 6th-11th May.
      Their website is here: http://www.russianarcticconvoymuseum.co.uk/wp/
      and you could make contact with them via email: Russian Arctic Convoy Museum

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      newsroom April 2, 2013 3:23 pm Reply
  • what date is the next memorial service at loch ewe my father served on the convoys during this period and I would like to see about bringing my mother along to it to remember him

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    richard bousfield June 27, 2016 12:47 am Reply
    • If you email the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Project at Aultbes on Loch Ewe, Richard – they should be able to help you on this: veterans@theracmproject.org
      Moreover, if you know something of your father’s story of his service on the convoys – and perhaps have letters or notes or photographs of his from that time – they’ll be very interested to add his story to thier online archive on their website here: http://www.russianarcticconvoymuseum.org/

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      newsroom June 27, 2016 10:16 pm Reply

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