Arctic convoy: Jock Dempster’s story

JOCK Dempster, 84, from Dunbar is chairman of the Scottish Arctic Convoy veterans and is one of the youngest of the group.

He set sail from Loch Ewe in 1944 as a 16-year-old in the Merchant Navy on the MV San Venancio. Even late in the war, when the worst of the convoy trips across the Arctic were over, he saw terrifying action.

He said: “The weather was extremely cold and snow showers prevailed. The ship’s deck was like a skating rink and we had to take care touching anything metal with bare hands – the skin would be torn off.

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“At about 5am, the ship just ahead of us, the Horace Bushnell, was torpedoed. We went to lifeboat stations, and a few minutes later the Thomas Donaldson was torpedoed.

“A periscope was sighted, and all hell broke loose. The guns on the merchant ships opened up – everyone was shouting and yelling. The noise, the absolute bedlam, scared the wits out of me. All of us knew that our ship, a tanker, would be the prime target on the convoy.

“The thought of death didn’t frighten me. I was very religious at the time, a firm believer that there was a life thereafter, but I was terrified of being badly burned, losing a limb, or my senses.

“The sloop HMS Lapwing was then torpedoed … The stench of burning metal, the screeching as it was torn apart, the screams of the wounded, filled the air. Words cannot describe my emotional havoc.”