A SPECIAL tribute to a Lothians war veteran who helped win national recognition for the Arctic Convoys will be held during a televised historic reunion.
Organisers of Arctic Convoys Week were yesterday making last-minute arrangements to pay their respects to Jock Dempster, from Dunbar, who died on Sunday following a stroke.
The 85-year-old’s passing came just days before he was due to travel north to Loch Ewe in Wester Ross – the site where many of the “suicide missions” were launched – for the reunion of more than 40 veterans.
Jock was just 16 when he made two convoy trips to Murmansk in 1945 as part of the Second World War campaign that transported vital supplies to key ally Russia.
He later campaigned tirelessly over decades to win official recognition for the sacrifices of those who took part in the Arctic Convoys. The Ministry of Defence subsequently awarded a medal, the Arctic Star, to belatedly recognise their bravery.
Bishop of Moray Mark Strange will speak about Jock’s life and his contribution to the cause during a memorial service and medal presentation on Thursday at the height of events planned for the reunion.
The poignant service is being televised by both the BBC and ITV. A minute’s silence in Jock’s memory was also carried out yesterday by assembled veterans.
Francis Russell, chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum Project, said Jock’s death was a “tremendous blow”.
He said: “I spoke to Jock not too long ago and he was really looking forward to coming up here. He was chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoy club in Scotland and over the years did a huge amount of work in keeping it going and generally trying to get this recognition, which finally the veterans got. It’s so sad that he couldn’t be here.”
Jock leaves behind wife Maggie, four daughters and one step-daughter. He witnessed terrifying action despite joining the merchant navy in the latter stages of the war. The sinking of the HMS Lapwing, which caused the deaths of 158 people from a crew of 228, was forever etched on his mind.
He travelled to Downing Street in March where he was handed his Arctic Star by Prime Minister David Cameron. Following the announcement the Arctic Star was to be awarded, Jock said it “meant everything”, although he expressed sadness that so many had not lived to receive the accolade.
The veteran was singled out for praise by Mr Cameron at the medal presentation in March.
Mr Cameron said: “For someone of my age and of my generation, we feel completely inadequate in the presence of people who risked so much to make sure that we could live in freedom.
“I want to give special recognition to all those who fought such a dignified battle and dignified campaign for this medal and for this recognition. And I think special recognition is deserved for Cdr Eddie Grenfell, Lt Cdr Dick Dykes and, of course, Merchant Navy veteran Jock Dempster for the extraordinary campaign that you have run.”