On the brink of a week long celebration of the Russian Arctic Convoys at Aultbea on Loch Ewe – from where they departed – one of the last veterans of the World War II Arctic Convoys, those heroic and pivotal challenges in unimaginable conditions, Jim McHugh, has died.
Jim McHugh did eight return convoy voyages from Loch Ewe in Wester Ross to the Kola Inlet at Murmansk. Russia, died peacefully at the age of 88, on the 21st April 2012.
Jim was born in Liverpool and joined the Royal Navy in March 1942. After training at HMS Raleigh, Plymouth, he was posted to Chatham Barracks.
He served as a gunlayer on three ships, HMS Achates (destroyer), HMS Nairana (aircraft carrier), and HMS Zenith (Z class destroyer), all on convoy escort duties to Russia and Malta. He was engaged on anti-submarine and enemy aircraft protection and bombardment action at both the Crete and the Normandy landings in June 1944.
His first ship, HMS Achates, was sunk whilst laying a smoke screen to protect Russian convoy JW15B by the German battle cruiser, Admiral Hipper, on the 31st December 1942.
Jim clung to the sinking hull with others until the approach of a trawler, Northern Gem, to which they had to swim in freezing water. There were 80 survivors out of 193. For the rest of his life Jim had a dram on New Year’s Eve in memory of his lost shipmates.
Nearing the end of his service Jim was recommended for and took a deep sea diving course, which he enjoyed. Then he was told he had to sign on for another 5 years. He declined.
All those of us who know and care for Jim’s fellow veterans of the Arctic Convoys send our sincere condolences to Jim’s wife, Audrey, who looked after him so well. Her first husband, who also died, was also a convoy veteran and she later met Jim through a convoy association dinner.
The photograph above, of Jim and Audrey, was taken at the last Convoy Veteran’s Reunion in 2008 at Loch Ewe. He won’t be there next week and if they ever do strike an Arctic Convoy Medal, it’s way too late.
Editor’s Note: Mike Rowlands cares for and has written about Arctic Convoy veteran, Jack Harrison, who served on HMS Diadem, who visited Loch Ewe, at the end of November 2009, as a guest of the owners of Pool House, Poolewe, with whom he seeded the idea for an Arctic Convoy Museum at Loch Ewe. It is this very project that is hosting the week long programme of events at Aultbea next week.
The title above – chosen by us and not by Mike Rowlands, refers to the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron, when he was campaigning for election, promised to redress the inexcusable failure of the government to create a medal for those who served on the vital convoys to Murmansk in the second World War. Once in office, and faced with resistance from the Ministry of Defence, which has always opposed such a medal, he reneged. Now there is talk of a rethink with no care for the fact that the surviving veterans have no time to wait for the thought processes of the mandarins to come to an unpredictable conclusion. Russia, on the other hand, is openly and continuingly grateful to the veterans and honours them on every possible occasion. But then Russia, unlike Westminster, actually knows about the conditions these men survived in the battle to keep Russia supplied and active in that war.
We never met Jim McHugh in person but had a long telephone conversation with him and with his wife a couple of years ago. He was irrepressible, full of energy and utterly memorable.