Arctic convoy hero’s funeral held in Dunbar

The funeral of Scottish war veteran and Arctic Convoys campaigner Jock Dempster. Picture: Jane Barlow
The funeral of Scottish war veteran and Arctic Convoys campaigner Jock Dempster. Picture: Jane Barlow
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ARCTIC convoys campaigner Jock Dempster was praised for his “massive” service to his country as he was laid to rest yesterday.

The Scottish war veteran died just days before the Arctic Star medal was presented to 30 of his colleagues. He had campaigned for almost 20 years for the government to formally recognise the Arctic convoys with a medal.

Yesterday, an hour-long service at Dunbar Parish Church commemorated the life of Mr Dempster, 85, who died on 5 May after suffering a stroke.

More than 200 mourners, including his widow Maggie and family, packed the small church in a service led by the Reverend Gordon Stevenson, which included a tribute from five standard bearers, including the Arctic Convoy and East Lothian Merchant Navy standards.

Neil Pickles, a friend of more than 47 years and a colleague from Mr Dempster’s Royal Air Force days, was unable to attend, but Rev Stevenson read out some words on his behalf. Mr Pickles said Mr Dempster was “a man who stood for fair play, integrity, loyalty and dedication”, who was “euphoric” when the government announced the award of the Arctic Star.

“Jock’s service to his country was massive,” he said. “His friendship was of the same calibre. He could juggle with a bag of soot, and not spill an ounce. His devotion to his family and his beloved Maggie was from the depths of his heart.”

Mr Dempster joined the Merchant Navy aged 16 in 1944 and carried vital supplies to Murmansk in Russia as it fought Nazi Germany, before serving in the RAF for 28 years.

Scores of veterans sailed on Arctic convoys to support the Russian war effort during the Second World War. Some 3,000 servicemen from across the UK took part in the Arctic missions, which Winston Churchill described as “the worst journey in the world”.

It is thought the Russian convoys were ignored by the honours and decorations committee in 1945 as the Soviet Union had become the new enemy and it was seen as embarrassing to celebrate those who had helped it.

At the end of the Cold War, the convoy veterans began their campaign for formal recognition. Tony Blair’s government went back on a promise to create a medal and former defence secretary John Reid came up with a compromise of creating the Arctic Emblem, which many saw as little better than a badge.

Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review and in February 2013 it was announced that a new medal, the Arctic Star, would be issued.

The Russian consul general in Edinburgh, Sergey Krutikov, said of Mr Dempster: “He always spoke about my country with great appreciation.

“In return, we Russians really appreciated everything that was done by the Arctic convoys – those heroes who helped us fight this terrible war.”