Arctic Convoy Veteran Stories Feature in New Slide Shows
Arctic convoy veterans living in Wiltshire and Swindon have allowed us to record and keep their accounts of life on board convoy ships in the Second World War.
Their accounts include dramatic moments, like receiving the order for PQ17 to scatter; reflective thoughts on the point of the convoys and memories of those who lost their lives; humorous anecdotes like the time when a man on watch realised the fin cutting through the water wasn’t a deadly torpedo ‘just a shark’.
Local 6th form students were given the opportunity to listen to some of these accounts and select from them those which they found of interest to create audio slide shows to publish on our website. One group were interested in the account of the battle to sink the German ship Scharnhorst, which became known as the battle of North Cape. A dramatic account of direct action against the enemy ship, to reduce the threat against the merchant ships on the convoy route. The second group chose a reflective piece about the 1944 convoy that repatriated 1,000s of Russian prisoners of war who were destined for the gulags.
The last group was fascinated by the accounts of life on board, the camaraderie, cockroach races, deck hockey games and other ways that the sailors passed the time when not on duty. The research helped one of the students understand more about the experiences of her relative who had served on the convoys.
All the slide shows produced by the students can now be seen on this website at http://www.wshc.org.uk/education/arctic-convoy-project.html
In preparing for this project, I listened to many of the 32 oral histories which now form part of our collections. The accounts are enthralling describing rescuing survivors from the sea, getting beached on a sandbank, darkness for 20+ hours a day, unimaginable cold with only a duffle coat to keep your warm, ice building up on the ships, rescuing Norwegians Islanders, icebergs, high seas and ferocious enemy attacks. Many of the young men who endured what Churchill famously described as “the worst journey in the world” reflected that they didn’t complain they just got on with it, because that’s what you did. It has been a privilege to listen to their accounts and their memories will now be kept safe at WSHC for future generations to hear and remember the Arctic Convoys. The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Laurel Miller, Education Officer