I recently spent a moving few days at Loch Ewe on Scotland’s stunning northwest coast, just under two hour’s drive west-northwest from the city of Inverness. Why was I there? I was supporting a gathering of veterans for the ‘Loch Ewe 75’ commemorative events arranged by the Russian Arctic Convoys Project, which ran in parallel to the Loch Ewe World War II Festival 2017 weekend. Thanks to the enterprise, planning and hard work of the local team it proved a wonderful combination, all blessed by warm sunshine and bright blue skies.
Loch Ewe was the mustering point of many of the Arctic convoys that delivered vital war materiel for the Soviet Union via the northern ports of Murmansk and Archangel during the period 1941-1945. The first convoys sailed from the loch seventy-five years ago. Although a former professional soldier, I have long held an interest in these convoys as an example of Allied co-operation during the Second World War, and, above all, as a demonstration of the supreme courage, fortitude and resolution of the mariners involved, whether serving in naval vessels or merchantmen.
For this ‘Immortal Gathering’ of veterans, including those who had specially travelled from Russia and from all parts of Britain, I edited and co-wrote a short historical booklet in tribute to the seafarers of all nations who served on the Arctic convoys, whether in merchant men, escort ships or in the supporting air and land-based defences.
British, Canadian and Russian veterans attended a series of special events which included the opening of the Russian Arctic Convoys Exhibition Centre at Aultbea and a service of remembrance at the convoy memorial at Cove on the opposite side of Loch Ewe, both on Sunday 7 May 2017.
There is a small but nonetheless important link to my recently published historical study Sevastopol’s Wars. Soviet armoured forces equipped with British Mk XIX Valentine tanks, supplied by the Arctic convoys, played a significant role in the liberation of Crimea and Sevastopol in April-May 1944.
Sevastopol was liberated on 9 May 1944, one year before Victory Day, which is commemorated in Russia today. While the world’s attention yesterday (9 May 2017) may have been focused on the massive parade on Moscow’s Red Square, there were nevertheless much smaller events in London, including a morning service at the Imperial War Museum and a march of the ‘Immortal Regiment’ through central London during the afternoon. British and Russian veterans took part in both events.