As Labour candidate for the Chippenham constituency, I was pleased to see veterans of the so-called Arctic Convoys honoured in Wiltshire recently. Medals were presented to Tom Edwards and Commander Harry Thompson, of Melksham, and Fred Andrews and Mervyn Salter from Corsham.
From August 1941 until May 1945, merchant ships from North America and Britain – protected by British, US and Canadian navy escorts – braved the extreme weather of Arctic Russia and treacherous sea routes patrolled by German U-Boats hunting in wolf packs to transport crucial supplies to the Soviet Union.
In total around 1400 merchant ships made the journey, out of which 85 were lost along with 16 ships of the Royal Navy. With each convoy involving the near certainty of attack, extraordinary courage was required on the part of the seamen and sailors involved in one of the most dangerous operations of the entire war. The thousands who took part and those who perished were indeed among the bravest of the brave of the Allied war effort.
Even after the supplies delivered by the convoys were no longer vital, they were continued because of their positive impact on Soviet morale and symbolic effect.
The contribution made by these men towards the defeat of fascism is inspirational.