Arctic convoy hero dies before he can wear medal

Jock Dempster, right, and Bill Bannerman show off their Russian medals in 2010. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Jock Dempster, right, and Bill Bannerman show off their Russian medals in 2010. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A VETERAN who played a key role in persuading the government to create a medal for the veterans of the Russian convoys has died just days before he was due to lead commemorations for the Second World War’s most arduous sea campaign.

Henry “Jock” Dempster, from Dunbar, passed away at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on Sunday, a week after suffering a massive stroke. He was 85.

Jock Dempster at Loch Ewe in 2011. Picture: Contributed

Jock Dempster at Loch Ewe in 2011. Picture: Contributed

His death came just over a month after he received the Arctic Star medal from Prime Minister David Cameron, along with other convoy veterans who ran the gauntlet of Nazi air, submarine and battleship attacks between 1941 and 1945 to keep the Soviet Union in the war.

At the ceremony, the Prime Minister singled Mr Dempster out along with his friend and fellow former Montrose Academy pupil Commander Eddie Grenfell, as well as Lieutenant Commander Dick Dykes, as the men whose efforts over almost 20 years had persuaded the government to formally recognise the Arctic convoys with a medal.

Mr Dempster was due to wear his medal for the first time at an official occasion tomorrow with a series of events in Wester Ross to mark Arctic Convoys Week.

The events are being held at Loch Ewe’s Arctic Convoy Museum, which Mr Dempster helped found as chairman of the Russian Convoy Club. Most of the convoys set out from Loch Ewe and Mr Dempster was just 16 when he sailed on the first of his two convoys to Murmansk in 1944, on the tanker MV San Venancio.

His wife Maggie, to whom he was married for 35 years, said that since suffering the huge stroke eight days ago, her husband had “struggled heroically” in what was the “biggest battle he ever fought”.

He died at around 9:15am on Sunday after suffering respiratory failure. She added: “I will remember him as a remarkable man who has not lived one life, but three. He had three careers and was very well-respected in all of them.

“He was also a good Samaritan and a good friend. He looked after me extremely well. He wouldn’t let the wind blow the wrong way if he could help it while I was about. He knew my thoughts before I knew them. I will miss him terribly.”

After the war, Mr Dempster’s links with Russia continued when he was trained by the RAF as a fluent Russian speaker and became an intelligence officer.

As chairman of the Scottish Russian Convoy Club in later life, he became a regular guest at the Russian Embassy and was feted as a hero on trips to Murmansk.

On one of his return visits to the country in recent years, he delivered a speech in fluent Russian, stunning his hosts.

The Russians also awarded Mr Dempster and fellow Arctic Convoy veterans with commemorative medals in 2010 to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the conflict.

Trudie Grenfell, the daughter of Mr Dempster’s friend and fellow medal campaigner Cdr Grenfell, said: “Dad was very sad to hear of Jock’s death. The two of them were great friends and shared so much together.”

A source close to Mr Cameron said that the Prime Minister had been “very impressed and moved” when he met Mr Dempster in March at the medal ceremony. A Downing Street spokesman said: “We were sorry to hear about the death of Jock Dempster.”