Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Arctic Convoy exhibition opens at Edinburgh Castle

A reminder that the War Museum at Edinburgh Castle is hosting a special exhibition about the Arctic Convoys – admission is included with admission to the castle.

The date seems to have changed slightly compared to the advance news of the exhibition, when the opening date was given as May 24, 2013, and the date given now is today, May 29.

The museum’s web page does not indicate when the exhibition ends, but it was previously given as March 2014, so you don’t have to rush.

Then prime minister Winston Churchill admitted the mission to keep the supply lines of munitions, tanks, lorries, fuel and food open was “the worst journey in the world”, and they were dubbed the “suicide missions” by many of those who served on them, as the convoys had to run the gauntlet of submarine, air, and battleship attacks in harsh sub-zero conditions through the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic Convoys: 1941-45

Open daily 9:45–17:45

Material has been gathered from numerous sources, including private collections, loans from the Imperial War Museum, and museums in Russia. The exhibition will also include recordings of personal testimonies from surviving veterans of the convoys. It is often forgotten that many of those who took part in the convoys were not actually in the Royal Navy, but were simply merchant seamen or fisherman who had been called up for duty.

Those involved with efforts to establish a permanent museum to the Arctic Convoys, to be located at Loch Ewe, where many of the convoys formed and departed from, have also helped with contributions to the Edinburgh exhibition.

Jacky Brookes, manager of the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum Project in Loch Ewe, said: “We’re delighted the exhibition is happening and hope it will help raise the profile of getting a permanent museum”

We have had occasion to mention the museum project at Loch Ewe before:

Ross-shire museum call for Arctic Convoy veterans

HMS Scylla, a Dido-class cruiser of the Royal Navy, served with the Home Fleet on Arctic convoy duties, and is seen below while anchored on the Clyde:

HMS Scylla on the Clyde

HMS Scylla on the Clyde

Click on the image below to see a British Pathé short, shot in Scandinavian waters, and showing various shots of ships in a large convoy en route to Russia where:

Aboard the cruiser ‘Scylla’ Lieutenant-Commander McKean in a fur hat keeps a running commentary on the battle for the benefit of the ship’s company.

A column of black smoke rises into the sky after one of the ships is hit. The Scylla draws alongside the minesweeper ‘Harrier’. The two ships are lashed together while travelling at speed as the Scylla and takes on survivors of a torpedoed freighter.

The escort Commander, Rear Admiral Burnett, is put in breeches buoy and slung across to a destroyer so the Scylla can go ahead with survivors. C/U of Burnett on a ship, smiling and looking through binoculars.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, military, Naval, Transport, World War II | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arctic convoy veterans return to Loch Ewe once more – but short of one member

It’s become something of a tradition to mention the annual journey of the surviving veterans of the Arctic Convoys of World War II, who meet at Loch Ewe, the gathering point for many of the convoys just before they departed for the freezing waters on their way to deliver their cargoes to Murmansk. Between 1941 and 1945,  crews kept supplies, weapons, and ammunition flowing and through German blockades to their Russian allies in Operation Dervish, the first of the convoys in 1941.

Five years ago, it looked as if the gathering was set to end, as numbers had fallen from 70 in 2002, to 13 in 2008, and the journey to Loch Ewe was becoming a strain for some of the survivors.

This year, the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum, Aultbea, has organised the reunion as part of its Arctic Convoys Week, which run until Saturday, May 11, 2013.

View Programme in PDF HERE

Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Aultbea

It seems that more than 40 veterans, all of whom are about 90 years old, are set to gather at Loch Ewe, some of whom have not been back to the  Wester Ross sea loch since the end of the war.

Via Arctic Convoy veterans to gather at Loch Ewe – Top stories – Scotsman.com

Arctic Convoys campaign veteran Jock Dempster dies

There will be one significant absence from the gathering this years, as Jack Dempster passed away last Sunday,  just days before he had been due wear his Arctic Star medal at a public ceremony for the first time. He had also planned to wear the medal during the traditional remembrance commemorations in November, at the Cenotaph.

Mr Dempster, from Dunbar in East Lothian, had fought for decades to win official recognition for those who had taken part in the Arctic Convoys, who were considered to have been forgotten.

They had been given awards from the Russians, but the rules on such things meant they were not able to wear them at official events.

His campaign ended in success when Prime Minister David Cameron presented the newly created Arctic Star to a group of 40 veterans in March of 2013.

Via Arctic Convoys veteran who campaigned for recognition dies aged 85 | News | Edinburgh | STV

Also Arctic Convoys campaign veteran Jock Dempster dies

The funeral, in Dunbar, of Mr Dempster was also reported:

Arctic convoy veteran Jock Dempster who campaigned for medals laid to rest | News | Edinburgh | STV

A memorial lies at the north west corner of Loch Ewe, near Cove, overlooking the entrance into this sea loch, where many of the convoys gathered and departed from.

May 7, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, Naval, Transport, World War II | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Exhibition to give front-row seat on ‘worst journey in the world’ taken by Arctic convoys

Ship steaming at seaVeterans of the notorious Arctic Convoys from Scotland to the former Soviet Union are to be honoured with a major exhibition being held in Edinburgh, and beginning in 2013.

Edinburgh Castle’s War Museum will be staging the first major display in Scotland dedicated to the 3,000 men who lost their lives on the convoys from 1941 and 1945.

Rarely seen photographs, uniforms, diaries, letters and other personal possessions from veterans will be going on display for almost a year at the attraction.

Plans for the exhibition have been revealed just weeks after it was confirmed that veterans of the Arctic Convoys would finally get military medals following a lengthy campaign to see them recognised.

The supplies and ammunition they transported were vital to the war effort, as German forces had completely blockaded any access by land.

The operation was launched to help ensure vital supplies could get through to the ports of Murmansk and Archangel after Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, to ensure that the Nazis would remain occupied on the Eastern Front.

But they were dubbed the “suicide missions” by many of those who served on them, as the convoys had to run the gauntlet of submarine, air and battleship attacks in harsh sub-zero conditions through the Arctic Ocean.

Then prime minister Winston Churchill admitted the mission to keep the supply lines of munitions, tanks, lorries, fuel and food open was “the worst journey in the world”.

Of the 78 convoys from the UK and Iceland over that period, 19 departed from Loch Ewe, in Wester Ross, in the north-west Highlands, with others leaving from Oban and the Clyde.

About 20,000 Royal Navy and merchant navy sailors were involved in the missions to transport almost four million tonnes of supplies, with 16 warships and 85 merchant vessels being lost throughout the campaign.

via Exhibition gives front-row seat on ‘worst journey in the world’ taken by Arctic convoy – Scotland – Scotsman.com.

The exhibition, Arctic Convoys: 1941-45, is due to run from May 24, 2013 until March of 2014.

Material has been gathered from numerous sources, including private collections, loans from the Imperial War Museum, and museums in Russia. The exhibition will also include recordings of personal testimonies from surviving veterans of the convoys. It is often forgotten that many of those who took part in the convoys were not actually in the Royal Navy, but were simply merchant seamen or fisherman who had been called up for duty.

Those involved with efforts to establish a permanent museum to the Arctic Convoys, to be located in Loch Ewe, where many of the convoys formed and departed from, have also helped with contributions to the Edinburgh exhibition.

Jacky Brookes, manager of the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum Project in Loch Ewe, said: “We’re delighted the exhibition is happening and hope it will help raise the profile of getting a permanent museum”

We have had occasion to mention the museum project at Loch Ewe before:

Ross-shire museum call for Arctic Convoy veterans

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, military, Naval, Transport, World War II | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ross-shire museum call for Arctic Convoy veterans

Cargo shipThe opportunity to mention the Arctic Convoys of World War II seems to arise most years (search the Blog to find more posts), and this one is no exception.

This time, the reason is a call from members of the Russian Arctic Convoy Club Scotland for a local museum to focus on the convoys which overwhelmingly sailed from Loch Ewe. Following the German invasion of Russia, deep Loch Ewe in Wester Ross became one of the UK’s most important bases for marshalling convoys of vital supplies destined for the Russian allies.

Between February 1942 and December 1944, 19 convoys totalling 481 ships set out from Loch Ewe, bound for Murmansk or Archangel in the north of Russia.

The route was around occupied Norway to the Soviet sea ports and was particularly dangerous both because of the proximity of German forces and the horrendous weather they encountered, as well as drifting icebergs. Over 100 merchant ships from the convoys fell victim to German U-Boats or aircraft, and over 800 merchant seamen lost their lives. The white berets which the veterans proudly wear are symbolic of the Arctic weather they battled through, in one of the bitterest and most prolonged campaigns of the war.

Highland MSP Rob Gibson said he was proud to be invited to speak at and join the remembrance service at Cove on Loch Ewe for the 3,000 seamen lost in the convoys. and joined survivors of the World War II Arctic convoys at the weekend to promote a museum to their achievements in Ross-shire.

Further details can be found here:

Museum call for Arctic veterans – North Star

September 9, 2010 Posted by | Appeal, Maritime, military, Naval, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

Honour for veterans of Arctic convoys

Cargo shipThe opportunity to mention those who took place in the Russian Arctic convoys has arisen more than once, the last time being to note that their last gathering at their Scottish departure point may be their last occasion to do so, Arctic veterans may be making last march.

This time, it’s to note the presentation of a medal marking the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. Thirty convey veterans will receive the honour, described by Consul General of the Russian Federation, Sergey Krutokov, as a “sign of appreciation for their heroic deeds during the tough years of the war”, at a ceremony in Edinburgh. The Consul General said that the Russians had the same warm feeling for the veterans as the British.

Jock Dempster, chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoy Club, 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”. Between 1941 and 1945, the convoys transported some four million tons of essential supplies and munitions to Russia.

With Norway occupied, the ships had to travel the treacherous northern route to the Russian ports, enduring the freezing conditions and Arctic ice floes. Churchill described the convoys as ‘suicide missions’, and in the years they sailed, they lost a to of 104 Merchant ships, 20 Royal Navy ships, one submarine, and two armed whalers, while Germany lost 31 submarines.

April 24, 2010 Posted by | World War II | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arctic veterans may be making last march

Sea Hurricanes

Sea Hurricanes

We mentioned the forthcoming tribute to be hosted at the Pool House Hotel in Poolewe, scheduled to take place on October 9, 2008, a few days ago, and this has been followed up by another story relating to the veterans.

This relates to the Armistice, and the day when those involved parade together at London’s Cenotaph. Jock Dempster, one of the Scottish veterans, has suggested that this could be the last year they march together, as old age and ill health catches up with the those who took part in the Arctic convoys. Mr Dempster is the youngest of those, at 80, while the average age 86. The number attending has fallen from almost 70 six years ago, and only 13 were in attendance last year.

He remembered the bravery of the Hurricane pilots who accompanied the convoys to provide air defence. The aircraft were launched by catapult, and there was no way for them to return to the ship once they had left on their mission. They had to ditch into the freezing sea and hope that they survived not only the ditching, but the intense cold, long enough to be found and picked up. At those temperatures, and without modern survival gear, they could lose their lives in the water in only a few minutes.

An estimated 3,000 men lost their lives on the Russian runs, which involved Britain, the United States, and Canada in shipping supplies to Russia, with destinations in ports such as Murmansk and Archangel.

October 2, 2008 Posted by | World War II | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arctic convoy veterans return to Loch Ewe

Pool House Hotel © Roger McLachlan

Pool House Hotel © Roger McLachlan

Lying at the south end of Loch Ewe, Pool House Hotel in Poolewe will host a tribute to those who took part in the Arctic convoys of World War II, in an event scheduled to take place on October 9, 2008. Now a hotel, the house was requisitioned and served as a command centre for vessels departing the loch. Representatives from the Royal Navy, Russia, and Norway have also been invited.

In addition to the danger of enemy action, many were lost in the freezing conditions and storms which lashed the vessels. One crew member described conditions where the only cargo left on deck was a consignment of tanks, secured to the deck, and how he watched as one wave stripped the crates from the vehicles stored on deck, while the next carried the exposed trucks away.

The convoys managed to deliver 12,755 tanks, 22,200 aircraft and 375,800 trucks, as well as four million tons of ammunition and other supplies to the USSR. Carrier escort aircraft and Army gunners on board defended the ships from German attacks from air and sea.

Just under 3,000 British sailors and merchant seamen lost their lives while taking part in these convoys.

In 2006, the first of them received a special UK award to mark their bravery. Arctic Emblems were presented in ceremonies on HMS Belfast, in London, and HMS Ark Royal, in Rosyth, Fife.

Loch Ewe was also the starting point for the Atlantic convoys, vital for the country’s supply line with America, and veterans gathered there recently for an annual visit, and some may return for this event.

The owners of the hotel are used to the regular visit, but reflected that as time passes, time and health is taking its toll of the veterans, and the number able to make the trip is gradually reducing.

September 18, 2008 Posted by | Maritime, Naval, Transport, World War II | , , , , , | 15 Comments

Project preserves World War II memories

Ten museums and galleries will take part in a project aimed at gathering recollections and memories of life during World War II while the opportunity to do so is still available. The intention is to concentrate on personal accounts, diary entries, photographs, news items and the like, to ensure that these remain available to be referred to by future generations.

This will be the second phase of a larger initiative that began with Their Past Your Future Scotland Phase 1, organised by Museum Galleries Scotland which commemorated the 60th anniversary of World War II through a touring exhibition and a series of community events including local exhibitions, entertainment, and events specifically created to generate intergenerational learning opportunities.  One of the biggest outcomes of this exercise was the gathering of numerous first hand accounts, unique experiences and veterans’ stories that would otherwise have remained unknown. The majority of these were extracted through interaction with schoolchildren or groups of young people.

Following on the success of the initial phase, the second project will bring together young people and older generations in communities across Scotland capturing oral histories which on World War II and subsequent conflicts. The outputs from these oral history projects will be a series of some 300 online mini-exhibitions or vignettes – oral histories and illustrative or contextual items from local and national collections which may include diary extracts, newspaper articles, old photographs, archival film, documents, paintings, and photographed objects. Together, they will create a vivid story of a person, event or location.

Their Past Your Future Scotland will culminate with the launch of a website in 2010.  The vignettes and other outputs generated will available as a classroom teaching aid via Learning and Teaching Scotland’s new Scottish schools’ intranet, Glow.

The ten museums and galleries and their projects are:

  • Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Museum, Stirling “Pull Up A Sandbag”
  • Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery, Glasgow  “The Glasgow West War Story”
  • Kildonan Museum, South Uist, “Proiseact Beinn na Coraraidh”
  • Museum nan Eilean, Isle of Lewis “Lewis At War”
  • Renfrewshire Council “Re-Solve”
  • Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, “Fortress Orkney”
  • Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, “Post-War Conflicts and Peace-Keeping Missions”
  • The Museum of The Black Watch, Perth, “In Peace And War”
  • West Dunbartonshire Council,  “Singers, Sirens and Silent Heroes”
  • West Lothian Council “West Lothian and The Forgotten War”

More details can be found in the original news release.

A similar project can be seen on the World War II in the Highlands web site.

The Scottish input is part of a larger scale project covering the UK.

Their Past Your Future Phase 1 ran between February 2004 and July 2006. It was an educational programme led by the Imperial War Museum and supported by the Big Lottery Fund as part of the official commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Their Past Your Future Phase 2 is a UK-wide educational project which will build on the experiences and successes of Their Past Your Future Phase 2.

July 25, 2008 Posted by | World War II | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stirling Veterans Celebrations

There seems to be a remarkable number of Veterans Celebrations appearing in the news recently, and while we don’t go and look for them (so there must be more), there’s another fairly sizeable event taking place in Stirling this weekend. There will be performances of the Pipers’ Trail throughout the weekend, a mix of theatre, pipes and drums, along with various military displays, a battle re-enactment and a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter.

On Friday, the freedom of the city was awarded to Lt Col Frank Saunders, a 102 year old veteran.

On Saturday, the main parade takes place, attended by Defence Secretary Des Browne, featuring pipes, drums, parachutists, up to 1,000 veterans and a Tornado flypast. Former personnel will receive veterans badges.

On Sunday, there will be a thanksgiving service.

On Friday and Saturday, two World War II searchlights will be turned on at the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle, forming a Saltire over the city.

July 12, 2008 Posted by | Civilian, World War I, World War II | , , | 1 Comment

Veterans Day commemorates Scots

veterans dayWe’ve reported on the forthcoming end of some events that mark significant dates for members of the armed forces, and this is simply because those involved are diminishing in number, and are now far from young, meaning that the journey, which could be across the world from where they now live, is too great a strain.

Veterans Day is is a national event, in part intended to raise public awareness, and acknowledges about half a million veterans still living in Scotland.

Glasgow marks the event for the first time today, and expects to see about 500 ex-servicemen and women attend a rally in the city. Events will also take place in Aberdeen, Inverness and Kelso.

Further information can be found on the Veterans Day web site.

June 27, 2008 Posted by | Cold War, military, World War I, World War II | , , | Leave a comment

Final war veteran march in Perth

It was sad to see that what is expected to be the last parade to include all the veterans from the 51st Highland Division ( a TA division formed in 1908 ) will take place in Perth this year.

The effort is simply becoming too much for those who attend, all now being in their 80s and 90s. Reunion organiser, Dr Tom Renouf (83) said, “Some of them are in wheelchairs, some of them are on crutches, some of them have sticks, but they will all be marching shoulder to shoulder, holding their heads proud.” The parade is also be attended by people and relatives of those from overseas locations where the division served, such as St Valery, Holland and the Ardennes.

This year, the reunion will include the dedication of a tapestry portraying the men’s contribution to World War II, followed by a march to the pipes and drums wiht serving territorial army members, cadets and World War II vehicles.

A Remembrance Service will also be held, and the day will conclude with a fly-past.

Unfortunately, I cannot give a date for the march. In line with many such news items provided by the BBC nowadays, no date is given for the event, or even an implied date such as “This Sunday”. Quite why they should omit clearly stated dates for events is a mystery, or perhaps it’s simply just bad writing or reporting. Either way, it’s extremely frustrating, and something I’ve noticed on more than one occasion in recent times.

June 8, 2008 Posted by | military, World War I, World War II | , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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