IT TOOK 70 years of pressure on the UK Government, but the brave men who served upon the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War have now been honoured with the ‘Arctic Star’ medal – with 39 convoy veterans presented their medals recently at Loch Ewe.
And on Saturday, May 11th, members of the Western Isles Branch of the Merchant Navy Association held a Service of Remembrance at the Memorial Plaque, in the Ferry Terminal building, Stornoway, in honour of the islands’ convoy men.
A wreath was laid by Mr William Macfarlane, Melbost, who is the national Treasurer for the organisation; and the service was conducted by Superintendent Finlay Macleod, Mission Port Officer, Stornoway Fishermen’s Mission.
Described as “the worst journey in the world” by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Arctic Convoys sailed from Loch Ewe to Archangel and Murmansk in the Soviet Union; brining vital supplies to the Eastern Front between 1941 and 1945.
During that time 87 Merchant Navy ships were sunk – with a loss of 3,000 lives – and 18 Royal Navy vessels were also sunk.
The dangers faced by those on the Arctic Convoys included enemy threats from submarines, Luftwaffe and surface battleships, and the long daylight hours meant attacks were continuous.
As well as enemy threats, the young men had to cope with the extreme hazards of intense cold, freezing ice-clad ships which tore at their flesh, fog, storms; as well as sleep deprivation, never knowing if they were next to be torpedoed.
“Working in those conditions and seeing your shipmates dying in the freezing icey cold waters is an extraordinary deed of human suffering, especially from the Merchant Navy crews,” said Stornoway Port Missioner Mr Macleod.
“Many of those lost at sea have no known grave and with many crews from the islands, we were pleased to commemorative and honour their bravery with this Service of Remembrance.”