Thanks to the Unforgotten Forces project, three veterans in their nineties attended a special annual ceremony on Sunday to commemorate the Russian Arctic Convoys of the Second World War; an event that claimed 3,000 lives.

The trio, who made the trip thanks to the Unforgotten Forces project which supports older veterans and their families in Scotland, are Bernard Roberts, 91, from Cardonald; James Docherty, 92, from Dalmarnock; and Edwin Leadbetter, 92, from Newton Mearns. Edwin – or “Eddie” – served on HMS Fencer, an escort aircraft carrier during the Second World War.  James made his first journey back to Loch Ewe since the War and Bernard – or “Barney” – served in the Royal Navy from 1942 and finished his service in 1947 on HMS Forth, in Rothesay, where he met his wife.

Teaming up with transport partner Fares4Free the Poppyscotland Break Away Service arranged an all expenses paid break to Gairloch for the WW2 Royal Navy veterans to attend the annual commemoration.

Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, which brought the Western Allies together to provide essential support and supplies to the Soviet forces. Chosen for its remote and isolated location, Loch Ewe, in the northwest Highlands, was the gathering point for many of the Arctic Convoys before they embarked on their perilous journey. The most direct route was by sea, around northern Norway to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel.

Between August 1941 and 1945, a total of 78 convoys travelled to and from northern Russia, taking four million tonnes of supplies to the Soviet forces, including 7,000 planes and 5,000 tanks. Tragically, more than 3,000 sailors and merchant seamen lost their lives on the convoys.

Sharon Higgins, Deputy Head of Welfare Services at Poppyscotland, said: “The route taken by the convoys was exceptionally dangerous, especially in winter, and conditions were among the worst faced by any Allied sailors during World War Two. In addition to battling the elements, many of the convoys were attacked by German submarines, aircraft and warships.

“No-one can underestimate the role played by the thousands of brave sailors who embarked on these perilous but pivotal missions. Now, more than 75 years on, Poppyscotland is delighted to be leading the Unforgotten Forces consortium as well as delivering the Break Away service in partnership with The Travel Company Edinburgh. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, and the veterans visiting Loch Ewe are a terrific example of how bringing together services that are of benefit to these individuals can have such a positive impact.

“We owe so much to veterans such as these and it is a privilege to be able to provide them with the opportunity to return to what will be for them such a poignant location. We are very grateful to colleagues from Fares4Free, Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS) and others for their support in making the break happen.”

Charity Fares4Free is a member of the Unorgotten Forces consortium and proved integral to making the break go ahead, they encourage taxi driiers to give up some of their fares every month to help veterans with transport. Thanks to Fares4Free the veterans could travel to the ceremony.

Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS) Welfare Officer Andy Riach, who is went on the trip, said: “I am extremely proud to have accompanied this small group of Royal Navy veterans from the Russian Arctic Convoy missions to the 2018 commemoration. In my role as a Welfare Officer at DMWS, I have supported two veterans who have served on the convoys. I have seen first-hand what it means to them to remember the hardships and the lives lost at the time, and in the years since.

“Thanks to Poppyscotland’s Break Away service this trip has enabled three veterans in their nineties to pay their respects. When you consider the tiny number of remaining veterans from this group, their age and what they had to endure during these arduous sailings, this is a really worthwhile project indeed.”

Unforgotten Forces is a collaboration of 15 leading organisations led by Poppyscotland which is delivering a range of services and enhancements in areas including advice, access to healthcare, social isolation, respite and transport, along with creative activities and events for those in care settings. The consortium was awarded £4 million worth of funding from the Aged Veterans Fund.

Published: 21st May, 2018
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