Three veterans in their nineties travelled to Wester Ross last weekend to attend a special annual ceremony to commemorate the Russian Arctic Convoys of the Second World War; an event that claimed 3,000 lives.
The trio, who are making the trip thanks to the Unforgotten Forces project which supports older veterans and their families in Scotland, have become close friends and they enjoyed a three-night stay at a hotel in Gairloch as part of a new ‘Break Away’ service.
The veterans are Bernard Roberts (91) from Cardonald; James Docherty (92) from Dalmarnock; and Edwin Leadbetter (92) from Newton Mearns. Edwin – or ‘Eddie’ – served on HMS Fencer, an escort aircraft carrier during the Second World War. He was on the Fencer when it joined an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz. Eddie spent more than a decade in the Royal Navy and is a recipient of both the Arctic Star and the Burma Star. Eddie suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives with his daughter and carer, Liz McKenna.
He was referred to the ‘Fares4Free’ scheme by Poppyscotland for support with essential journeys.
James was making his first journey back to Loch Ewe since the Second World War. He remembered when he looked at the ship next to him, only to see his neighbour from Dalmarnock, in Glasgow, looking back at him. “It’s a small world!” he thought to himself. James is a recipient of the Arctic Star and the Ushakov Medal.
He was referred to ‘Fares4Free’ by the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Edinburgh for assistance with essential travel.
Bernard – or “Barney” – served in the Royal Navy from 1942 and finished his service in 1947 on HMS Forth, in Rothesay, where he met his wife. It recently came to light that Barney spent time on mine-laying ships in the Arctic Circle and an application for the Arctic Star has been made. He has also received the Africa Star for his contributions in northern Africa.
A fourth veteran – Albert Lamond, aged 92, from Erskine – was also due to attend, but, unfortunately, was not well enough to do so. Albert, who attended the 75th anniversary of the first Arctic Convoy in May last year, is a recipient of the Arctic Star, the Ushakov Medal and is a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur for his service to France during the invasion in World War Two when his ship acted as an escort to Bombardment Force D of the Eastern Task Force.
Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, which brought the Western Allies together to provide essential support and supplies to the Soviet forces. Chosen for its remote and isolated location, Loch Ewe was the gathering point for many of the Arctic Convoys before they embarked on their perilous journey. The most direct route was by sea, around northern Norway to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel.
Between August 1941 and 1945, a total of 78 convoys travelled to and from northern Russia, taking four million tonnes of supplies to the Soviet forces, including 7,000 planes and 5,000 tanks. Tragically, more than 3,000 sailors and merchant seamen lost their lives on the convoys.
Several wartime buildings, gun emplacements and anti-aircraft batteries still stand around the local landscape where the veterans are visiting. For that reason, Loch Ewe is the base for many commemorative activities, and The Russian Arctic Convoy Museum project set up a dedicated Exhibition Centre in the village of Aultbea last year.