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75th Anniversary of the Arctic Convoys in Liverpool

On 31 October by the kind invitation of the Ministry of Defence in partnership with the Royal British Legion and the City of Liverpool Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko took part in a solemn ceremony commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Arctic Convoy missions which was held in Liverpool Town Hall.

The memory of the WWII always took a special place in Russian-UK bilateral relations. The heroism and self-sacrifice of the soldiers and officers who fought against Nazism, including Allies, have always been respected. All these people displayed true courage, inspiring all nations of the world. Their deeds will continue to serve as the supreme expression of bravery and a high point in human spirit. The allied effort required all the best in the national spirit of the British and the peoples of the Soviet Union.

The comradeship-in-arms, which was born at the truly critical juncture of history, will forever remain an important part of European historic heritage and bilateral relationship, including the ties between the two navies.

Over 30 veterans and their families, high-ranking officials, including the 7th Earl Howe, First Sea Lord, Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside, Lord Mayor of Liverpool and many other distinguished guests took part in the ceremony.

 

Speaking Notes for Arctic Convoy 75 Event

 

Minister, My Lady Mayoress, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

  • It is a privilege to represent the Royal Navy today as we mark the extraordinary heroism and singular fortitude of all those who sailed with the Arctic Convoys.

 

[Arctic Convoys Overview]

 

  • Following invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the first Arctic Convoy – Operation Dervish - sailed from Liverpool on 12 August and reached Archangel later that month.

 

  • It signalled the start of almost 4 years of convoys along a route, described by Churchill, as “the worst journey in the world”.

 

  • Between August 1941 and May 1945, some 800 merchant ships delivered four million tons of supplies to the Soviet Union in a series of 40 convoys, escorted by ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and the United States Navy.

 

  • It is difficult today to imagine the conditions experienced on this journey, facing as they did the threat from enemy aircraft, surface ships, U-boats and mines, but also the extreme weather and treacherous waters found within the Arctic Circle.

 

  • Cold and stormy conditions and perpetual darkness placed immense strain on merchant and naval sailors alike. It is testament to their resilience and determination that the vast majority of ships arrived safely at their destination.

 

  • Nevertheless, one in every 20 vessels did not return, and several thousand seafarers were lost.

 

  • These numbers, by themselves, are cold and raw and cannot convey the true magnitude of the price that was paid.

 

  • Behind those numbers were stokers and chippys, cooks and stewards, navigators and wireless operators - individuals who left behind families and loved ones.

 

  • There is no headstone among the flowers for those who perish at sea, but today we remember the personal commitment, courage and sacrifice of every one of them.

 

[Merchant Navy]

 

  • In addition to the Merchant Navy’s contribution to the Arctic Convoys, we must never forget the price paid by merchant seafarers and fishermen to keep Britain fed, fuelled and connected through the two great global conflicts of the Twentieth Century.

 

  • Despite the intervening decades, this nation still depends on young men and women at sea for our security and our prosperity.

 

  • Just as the Royal Navy sailed alongside the Merchant Navy through the menace of the U-boats and the heroism of the Convoys, we stand alongside the UK shipping industry today.  

 

  • Right now, over 7,000 sailors and marines are on operations: in home waters, in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Gulf, and beyond; wherever in the world British ships, British citizens or British interests are found.

 

  • And of course, the Royal Navy relies on its own civilian service, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, to support us at sea. We could not sustain our global reach, our agility, or our fighting power without them, and today we also remember their contribution in both peace and war.

 

[City of Liverpool]

 

  • I would like to thank Liverpool City Council and the Royal British Legion for making this event possible today.

 

  • Liverpool is one of the world’s great maritime cities, and with developments like Liverpool2 deep water container terminal it has a strong future ahead. My own father worked for many years at Cammell Laird and it is wonderful that this historic name, which symbolises the North West’s long and proud industrial heritage, is associated once again with shipbuilding.

 

  • The Royal Navy is thrilled that the second of our two new aircraft carriers, HMS Prince of Wales, will be affiliated with the City of Liverpool. The spectacle of this 65,000 tonne ship next to the Three Graces will be a powerful statement about Liverpool’s confidence in her maritime future, and indeed, Britain’s confidence in her global role.

 

[HMS Dragon]

 

  • Later, it will be my pleasure to welcome as many veterans as possible onto HMS Dragon, one of the newest and most advanced fighting ships in the modern Royal Navy.

 

  • There is a fitting historic connection: in 1943, a Royal Navy cruiser named DRAGON was commissioned into the Polish Navy. She spent 6 months undergoing modernisation here in Liverpool before joining the Home Fleet, after which she was assigned to cover the passage of convoy JW57 to North Russia.

 

[Conclusion]

 

  • And if I may end by addressing our veterans directly. The modern Royal Navy is not as large as the Navy you knew, but we have not forgotten the lessons of the past.

 

  • The modern HMS Dragon is in every way a 21st Century fighting ship. Her Ship’s Company are working incredibly hard and they are worthy custodians of the heritage and traditions of the Royal Navy. The same is true for all our sailors and marines.

 

  • My solemn promise to you today is that the Royal Navy will honour your Service, and sacrifice of so many more like you, by continuing to approach our duties with same sense of responsibility and commitment that you showed in the icy waters of the Arctic all those years ago.

 

75th Anniversary of the Arctic Convoys

 

Liverpool Town Hall

 

31 October 2016

 

Speech by the Right Worshipful, The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Roz Gladden

 

 

Welcome to Liverpool Town Hall.

I would like to welcome our Arctic Convoy Veterans, I know many have travelled across the country to be here today and of course we send our very best wishes to those who have been unable to attend.

May I also take this opportunity to thank the Ministry of Defence who in partnership with the Royal British Legion and Liverpool City Council have organised today’s events.

The Military and Merchant Seafarers have always had close links with the City of Liverpool and we are always proud to welcome those who have proudly served their country. Today, those close links are clearly evident and it is an opportunity for me on behalf of the people of Liverpool to express our gratitude to all of you.

 

The City as a port has always had strong connections with our seafarers and we are always keen to acknowledge the important part they play during times of conflict.

During World War 2 more than a 1000 convoys left from Liverpool on hazardous journeys ensuring that arms, ammunition, food and machinery could reach all parts of the world.

Today, As always we appreciate and recognise the bravery and the extreme hardships endured by those who took part in the Arctic Convoy Operations during World War Two and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and of course those who we have lost since.

This day is particularly poignant for me as my Dad, Bill, like so many others, left his pit village near Wigan to join the Royal Navy during the Second World War and took part in the Arctic Convoys when he was just 18 years old.

Sadly we lost our Dad in 2010, two years too early to receive his Arctic Star medal from the Government though he was particularly proud of the medal he received from the Russian Government.

Like many other veterans my Dad never talked much about what happened during the war though my sister and I, grew up with a lot of naval sayings that I’ve never had to use in my adult life like ‘splice the mainbrace’ which has quite a lot to do with drinking rum I think!  Another habit he picked up in the navy.

However, later in life he did tell us how dangerous those convoys were; how if you didn’t keep your gloves on your hands froze to the metal on the ship. He had a lot of respect for our merchant seamen who he maintained were like sitting ducks and however hard they tried to protect them some inevitably were lost.

We owe a massive debt of thanks to the men of all our armed forces and our merchant seamen for the part they played in making the world a safer place.

The men of that generation were truly remarkable.

It is fitting this Anniversary coincides with the Annual Service of Remembrance and Dedication to be held on Sunday 13th November when we remember all those lost in conflict.

On behalf of the City of Liverpool, I thank our Arctic Convoy Veterans and hope you enjoy your day – thank you! 

Arctic Convoy Speech.

Introduction 

Firstly, my thanks to the Lord Mayor for kindly letting us use this wonderful venue today.

It’s a privilege to be here once again. I was here only a few weeks ago, to pass on the very good news to the Mayor that Liverpool had been selected to be the flagship city for Armed Forces Day 2017.  This was a selection that was easy to make, given the long and close links between this proud city and our gallant veterans and Service personnel.  Today this link is demonstrated once more, and it is my turn for pride, in being able to stand amongst heroes and to play some small part in honouring your extraordinary story.

It may be 75 years since the first Arctic Convoy set sail, but time hasn’t diminished the brilliance of your deeds – if anything it has made them shine ever brighter.

Extraordinary achievement against the odds

Standing here in the warmth and splendour of this ball room it’s almost impossible to imagine what you went through.

Navigating some of the world’s most perilous waters in the most extreme weather;

Stalked by warships, packs of U-boats and Luftwaffe squadrons,   

to take vital supplies to aid Russia when it needed them most. 

The figures alone are impressive: seven thousand war planes, 5,000 tanks and vehicles, along with millions of tons of medicine, fuel and raw materials delivered to the Eastern Front.

But they only tell a small part of the story.

The effect of what you did was priceless – helping the Allied forces – not least the heroic men and women of Russia – turn the tide of war and save Europe from Nazi tyranny.

The Athenian General and Statesman Pericles famously said that “Freedom is the sure possession of those who have the courage to defend it.”

He could easily have been talking about people like you – the men of our Arctic Convoys. 

Each of us here today, our entire nation and our European allies owe the freedom we enjoy…and often take for granted...to your bravery, your tenacity and your selfless commitment.

So I’d like to say two small but vital words: thank you

Thank you – not just to those gathered here but to everyone who made that infamous journey… 

…a journey against the odds

…a journey from which 3,000 allied seamen never returned.

Conclusion 

So, as we continue to face down threats to our national freedom and our way of life we would do well to remember their sacrifice…and to remember your story.

Taking inspiration from what extraordinary feats seemingly ordinary men can achieve in the most desperate circumstances.

And reminding ourselves that if freedom is to endure and to flourish it requires the sacrifice, the effort and the unwavering commitment of each and every one of us.

 





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