Poems and stories inspired by the Arctic Convoys

on Tuesday, 23 May 2017. Posted in Archives, Military


The final piece of the Arctic Convoy project has just been completed – and what a resounding success.

The History Centre joined forces with writer and arts facilitator Dawn Gorman to work with a group of young people on a creative writing project using the Second World War Arctic Convoy oral histories as source material. We approached St Laurence School in Bradford on Avon and the Chippenham Air Scouts to recruit youngsters to the project.

We were knocking on an open door at St Laurence as we had worked with the school in 2016 on the Iron Duke project and we knew there would be students eager to hone their creative writing skills. Four students signed up to the poetry workshops being run by Dawn.

To be fair the Scouts were a slightly trickier audience, even with the promise of earning another badge if they took part. Dawn and I attended one of their meetings and spoke with around 20 youngsters, mostly aged 11-13 and mostly boys, about the stories of the Arctic Convoy veterans and the idea that anyone and everyone can enjoy creative writing!

I had brought with me Second World War magazines, a selection of photographs of veterans interviewed by the History Centre in the first part of the project, and a medal presented by Russia to British sailors who had served on the convoy ships.

This brief session prompted two of the Scouts to share with the group that their great grandfathers had been sailors on Royal Navy ships escorting the merchant ships carrying supplies to Russia. In the end we had four Scouts signed up to the workshops and they were joined by a member of Corsham Sea Scouts.

The starting point for the creative writing was to listen to the stories told by some of the Wiltshire veterans of the convoys. These oral histories and their transcripts can be accessed at the History Centre. On our website we have uploaded a series of short films with abridged versions of the oral histories and it was these recordings that were used in this project.

Dawn worked in school with the Year 10 and 11 students on poems inspired by these men’s stories while the Scouts took part in a more structured series of workshops held at the History Centre.

The boys created both poetry and storyboards based on the Arctic Convoys. Dawn worked with them on “found poetry” – creating poems from pre-existing text – the five senses and creating a hero profile and story. 

The boys quickly took ownership of the project and went away from each workshop eager to carry out their own research with two contributing their own additional stories. In the final session the boys read their poems and presented their storyboards to a small but appreciative audience that included the chairman of Chippenham’s Royal British Legion Irene Sinclair.

Both the St Laurence students and the Scouts responded with immense enthusiasm and creativity and in both cases the results were impressive and can be seen below. More of their work will be going up on our website.

The workshops also showed how these wonderful oral histories could be used by any youth group or school (primary and secondary), not only to access the history of Wiltshire veterans in the Second World War but also to encourage youngsters to respond creatively.

Below are two of the senses poems written by the boys. (Cocoa and egg and chips obviously made an impression on the boys as they did in the memories of the veterans.)

Arctic Convoy by Ben
Being on board smells like cocoa.
Being on board tastes like egg and chips.
Being on board looks like ice on the railings.
Being on board sounds like crashing waves.
Being on board feels fragile.

Arctic Convoy by Thomas
Being on board smells like cocoa.
Being on board tastes like egg and chips.
Being on board looks like men crowded together.
Being on board sounds like the blowing of the wind.
Being on board feels like metal, water and ice everywhere.

This storyboard is by James

Caitlin and Abigail are students at St Laurence School and wrote these poems in response to the veterans’ stories.

Aboard the convoy
Needles pricked my skin.
Icebergs floated on the lifeless waters
A black sky shook hands with its flattened tides.
Down in the heart of the ship
Slept many men, in their swinging hammocks.
Their aggressive snores echoed up the steps
To a perplexed officer trying to connect the radio.

The sound of silence, more prominent
Consumed each member aboard the ship.
With nothing but our own voices to balance it
Disguised hours pass by.
Men awake from their dreams of home.
Cocoa, a welcoming scent, greets them on their way
The only source of warmth on their journey.

Swarms of cockroaches roam the ship
In search for the same salvation – Home.
The bright light of a soldier’s torch
Redirected them to the races finish line.
Jackets. Soaked, weighed on our shoulders.
The crackling of the lost radio channel
Reminded us of our endless days aboard the convoy.


The Battle of North Cape
After an account by Arthur Ayres

The day before Christmas,
Splice the mainbrace, extra tot of rum,

During the night something happened,
The next thing we know the ship be sailing,

8 o’clock Christmas morning,
All darkness, complete darkness,

With the 11 inch cruiser, the 11 inch guns,
The first one to open fire.

Not long after that, we got hit 3 times,
A hell of a bang and, Christ, it was terrifying,

Armour piercing shells, 11 inch shells,
Completely skinned their faces and hands,

Went through the forecastle – straight through the forecastle,
– didn’t explode.

I wouldn’t have been here today I don’t think,
Wouldn’t have seen the ship no more either,

Next shell came in after,
Couldn’t believe what they see,

Went straight across, hit the port side dock,
Caught the officer’s bunks afar,

Somehow turned, the same shell mind,
Came back, and went down into the engineer’s workshop,

There’s 8 people in there,
They were smashed to smithereens.

They asked for volunteers afterwards,
To go down and clear up all this mess,

Help the soul keeper as you call it,
It was just like a butcher’s shop.

We went back to Murmansk,
The Saumarez came in,

She got hit pretty bad,
12 killed aboard her,

They didn’t carry a padre,
They brought her 12 dead aboard us,

So we had 20, laid out on the upper deck,
And went out to bury.


Ruth Butler, Heritage Education Officer


Accredited Archive Service