Transport Minister, Keith Brown, has given £5,000 to the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum fund, focused on developing a museum at Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, one of the major points of gathering and departure for these epic transports.
Proper respect must be given to the dedication and courage of the veterans who were involved in a form of extreme transport in an time of do-0r-die necessity.
Recognising this, Keith Brown – also Veterans Minister, hosted a reception yesterday at which he met the veterans and their families. At the event, the Minister presented the cheque for the donation to the museum, saying:
‘It is such an honour and a pleasure to meet this group of men who made an immeasurable contribution to the Allied forces’ efforts during World War II.
‘Scotland owes these men a considerable debt of gratitude and I thank them on behalf of the whole country for their bravery, determination and skill in navigating some of the world’s worst seas in the most hostile of conditions.
‘I am delighted to see that efforts are continuing to be made to create an Arctic Convoy museum at Loch Ewe, from where so many of the convoys set off on their missions. I am pleased to announce that the Scottish Government is able to contribute £5,000 to the museum fund, which I hope, alongside other generous donations will help this project make real progress.
‘I have written to MoD Ministers asking that the valour of Arctic Convoy veterans is recognised and acknowledged. I hope they listen and see fit to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen that a campaign medal is struck.
‘Each year there are less and less of these veterans, I hope that the UK Government now listens and these brave men urgently get the recognition they deserve.’
Mr Brown is himself a f0rmer member of the armed forces and it is to be hoped that the Scottish Government’s view can bring some change at Whitehall.
The Ministry of Defence has long set its face against the striking of an Arctic Convoy Medal – largely on classist grounds because merchant seamen would qualify for it as well as those of the Royal Navy. Whatever determines the possession of courage and fortitude and whatever causes suffering and death does not first ask to see such credentials.
The contact made with the MoD also signals a move on the part of the Scottish Government – but is it determined or tokenist?
When Jim Mather was MSP for Argyll and Bute and a respected government minister, we asked him to pursue at government level, the award of a Scottish medal for the Arctic Convoy veterans. This seemed something that could be done if the will was there.
The response he got was that this was matter for Westminster and there was no evidence then of any will to put pressure on the issue.
It seemed odd – and it still does – for a nationalist government to be so respectful of a protocol that cripples the repayment of a moral debt of this order; and to offer such respect to a code that dishonours veterans whose experiences are utterly beyond our knowing.
So many of these convoys left from Loch Ewe. It is that place that the surviving veterans from around the world have been returning to year after year until now there are only a handful of them capable of making the journey.
This is a Scottish matter as much as it is anything else.
£5,000 is a modest contribution to a valuable museum project – but everyone needs to see the men who are left benefit from formal recognition of what they they did for Britain and Russia, its major ally, at a tine when the momentum of World War II could have taken a very different direction.
Argyll has a stake in this. The naval escorts for the convoys were trained in Tobermoty on Mull. This is our story too. Let’s see something actually done.