Second World War veterans who helped Russia gather at Loch Ewe

EDINBURGH’S few surviving Russian Arctic Convoy veterans are to be reunited at the site where their “suicide missions” were launched.

Dunbar’s Jock Dempster, one of just 200 campaign members in Britain estimated to still be alive, is among those who will make the long trip north to Loch Ewe in Wester Ross for the reunion.

It will be the first time in close to a decade that veterans from across Britain, who braved brutal conditions at sea to deliver vital supplies to Britain’s Soviet allies during the Second World War, have got together.

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Up to 40 past servicemen are expected to attend the event, which runs from May 8-10.

The gathering will carry added significance in light of last month’s decision by the government to finally recognise convoy veterans with an official Arctic campaign medal.

An estimated 65,000 men braved sub-zero temperatures, high seas and submarine and battleship attacks to keep supply lines open to Russia from 1941-45. The 
voyages across the Arctic were described by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”.

Twin charities The Royal Navy Benevolent Trust and Seafarers UK are funding the reunion, and organisers intend to record personal testimonies from the veterans attending to add to a planned museum.

The landmark occasion will tie in with six days’ worth of events aimed at helping finance the permanent Arctic Convoys museum at Loch Ewe. About £70,000 has been raised in the past year.

Nineteen of the 78 convoys that originally departed from UK and Iceland left from the remote location in the north-west Highlands.

Fellow veteran James Osler, who hails from Morningside, and another unidentified veteran from the Capital have also been invited.

Francis Russell, chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum Project, said: “We’re getting a lot of contact from veterans we haven’t heard from before, which is great.

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“It should be the largest reunion in many a year. Given the age of many of these people, it could be the last major one there is.

“What we’re trying to do – and this is early days yet – because of the recent announcement about the medals, we’re inviting someone from the Government and we’re hoping by then that there will be a medal and someone can come along and give the medals out up here.”

The Ministry of Defence has previously said it was planning for veterans to be awarded the medals, including posthumous awards, by spring.

Mr Dempster, 84, made two trips to the Russian port of Murmansk starting from March 1945. He said he expected most of the Scottish veterans to attend the reunion, adding: “It will be nice to meet up. The Convoy Club nationally used to have a meeting every year down in Blackpool. Quite a lot of veterans from all over the country went there.

“But when the men’s club folded up so did that. This’ll be the first reunion we’ve had in about seven or eight years.”