Lewis hero of WWII Arctic Convoys finally honoured

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A BRAVE islander who led a successful Russian convoy mission during Second World War has finally been recognised 74 years later.

The late Captain Murdo Macleod, originally from Barvas on the Isle of Lewis, has been awarded the prestigious Arctic Star Medal.

Ships passing through Arctic fog while on convoy duty in the Northern Waters

Ships passing through Arctic fog while on convoy duty in the Northern Waters

He was one of hundreds of veterans who braved freezing conditions to maintain a lifeline between the Soviet Union and the west in their fight against the Nazis.

The Arctic convoys boasted crews of British and other allied navies who sailed vital supplies to soldiers battling against Hitler in the Eastern Front.

Fleets of merchant vessels were flanked by Royal Navy warships and dozens were lost as they were attacked from the air and sea.

Around 3,000 civilian sailors lost their lives on the convoys, which set off from the Clyde and Loch Ewe from 1941 to 1945.

The marking of his service in the Arctic convoys by the award of this medal means a lot to his family and I was delighted to be able to assist them

Angus MacNeil

Capt Macleod was vice commodore of a convoy of 39 ships (PQ18) which left Loch Ewe in February 1942.

As captain of the Empire Snow, he was involved in the voyage to Russia which, despite relentless attack, successfully brought supplies to the allies.

His proud family had tried in vain to secure the medal posthumously for Capt Macleod, who was lost at sea in 1944, but was refused as no records were identified by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil took on the family’s campaign and wrote to the MoD last year, receiving a letter confirming Capt Macleod’s eligibility and apologising for previously being unable to locate the records.

Mr MacNeil said: “It was a great honour to help to secure this medal for the Macleod family which marks the service of Captain Murdo Macleod on the Arctic convoys in 1942, for which he also received the posthumous award of Distinguished Service Cross.

“He was a dedicated and courageous mariner who had a long distinguished career in the Merchant Navy.

“The marking of his service in the Arctic convoys by the award of this medal means a lot to his family and I was delighted to be able to assist them.”

Margaret Macleod from Carloway, who is Capt Macleod’s niece, received the medal on his behalf.

She said: “I remember my uncle Murdo very well and words cannot express how proud I am about receiving this award on his behalf.”

Capt Macleod left Lewis in 1909 and was a seaman on the coasts of Australia and New Zealand and also served overseas in the First World War.

He kept in regular weekly contact with his family back home, particularly his brother, Donald, in South Galson, Margaret’s father.

In the Second World War, he left Loch Ewe in 1942 as part of the convoy of 39 merchant ships and a strong close escort of destroyers, an aircraft carrier, an anti-aircraft ship and smaller escort vessels.

The convoy was attacked on several occasions and ten ships were lost.

In January 1944, the SS Fort Buckingham under Capt Macleod’s command left Bombay bound for Buenos Aires and en route was torpedoed by a German submarine.

Almost half of the crew was lost, including Capt Macleod – “the last voyage of a courageous and dedicated mariner”.

Capt Macleod’s widow, accompanied by his niece, Catherine Williams, nee Macleod – Margaret’s elder sister who was a health visitor in Cardiff at the time – received the posthumous award of Distinguished Service Cross from George VI at Buckingham Palace for his convoy duties.

Other medals he received include the 1939-45 Star; the Atlantic Star; the Pacific Star; and the War Medal 1939-45. He saw further action at Sicily and at Salerno and was commended for services in the Indian Ocean.Scottish heritage: for stories on Scotland’s people, places and history >>