Arctic convoy veteran fights to get recognition for fallen comrades

AN Arctic convoy veteran from Dunbar is still fighting to get recognition for his fallen comrades who died in freezing conditions during the Second World War.

Jock Dempster (84), who joined up at 16 after attending a merchant navy training school, is backing calls for the UK Government to honour its pre-election commitment to award Arctic convoy medals and allow those who served in the conflict to receive Russia’s Ushakov medal.

The Arctic convoys sailed from UK, Iceland and North America to Archangel and Murmansk. There were 78 convoys between August 1941 and May 1945. Some 1,400 merchant ships delivered supplies to the then Soviet Union under the lend-lease programme.

In all, 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal navy warships were lost – with a cost of 3,000 lives.

Mr Dempster has received commemorative medals from the Russian government and was invited to attend the Victory Day Parade in Moscow two years ago.

For the first time, British, French and US military and bands paraded together on Red Square to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the war.

However, the UK Government has so far not recognised the survivors of the convoys with a dedicated campaign medal.

Mr Dempster said: “The ones I feel aggrieved for are the 3,000 men who drowned in icy grave.”

He recalled how HMS Lapwing, a small naval escort ship, was destroyed by U-boat torpedoes with the loss of 158 lives.

He described how the crew had no choice but to jump into the freezing water because the vessel was on fire and had broken in two.

Veterans Minister Keith Brown has also raised the need to recognise the courage of the Scottish heroes who served in the Arctic convoys.

During a meeting in London with UK Defence Minister, Mark Francois, he repeated calls for the UK Government to award arctic convoy medals.