Arctic heroes celebrated as Liverpool hosts 75th anniversary commemorations

With the autumn sun bathing Liverpool’s legendary waterfront in a golden hue, a veteran Swordfish flies up the Merlin, past HMS Dragon and a band of Arctic Convoy veterans honoured in the great maritime city.

Liverpool was the setting for a day of celebration and commemoration for the dwindling number of survivors – the youngest in their late 80s – who made what Churchill called ‘the worst journey in the world’, delivering vital aid to the Soviet Union to help the Red Army fend off and ultimately defeat the Nazi invader.

Some 35 veterans, the left breasts of their jackets bristling with an array of medals, plus in many cases the recently-instituted Arctic Star, plus their families gathered on the Mersey for a series of events organised by the RN, Royal British Legion and Liverpool City Council.

They were invited to a reception at Liverpool Town Hall, followed by a ceremony on HMS Dragon, moored at the city’s cruise terminal, which concluded with an appearance from the RN Historic Flight’s Swordfish – to the Fleet Air Arm an aircraft as iconic as the Spitfire is to the RAF – which made the 330-mile round trip from its home in Yeovilton to stage a flypast. 

During the voyage we encountered some of the very worst weather imaginable, but the real heroes were those who undertook several passages on convoy, and those who did not return.

Roger Ellison

For nearly four years merchant ships escorted by British and Allied warships ran the gauntlet of U-boats, German surface ships and the Luftwaffe around the top of Norway to the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk – often in horrendous weather conditions; Churchill dubbed it “the worst journey in the world”.

One in every 20 ships sent to Russia was lost – compared with an average of one in 300 on other convoy routes during WW2 – and more than 3,000 Servicemen and merchant sailors were killed.

But they succeeded in delivering between 3½ and 4 million tons of cargo of all kinds, from thousands of tanks and aircraft to vital fuel and machinery to the Soviet Union.

The events in Liverpool came 71 years to the day Roger Ellison, a merchantman serving aboard the former Cunard liner RMS Scythia, turned into a troopship, sailed for Murmansk.

“During the voyage we encountered some of the very worst weather imaginable, but the real heroes were those who undertook several passages on convoy, and those who did not return,” the now 89-year-old Liverpudlian said.

In the magnificent setting of the civic offices and to the accompaniment of music from the RM Band, Plymouth, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones said the day remembering the sacrifices made three quarters of a century ago was a fitting occasion.

“The veterans of the Arctic Convoys braved pursuit by unseen enemy vessels and some of the worst weather imaginable to bring supplies to the Russian front line at the height of World War 2,” he said. “I am delighted to see these heroes and their families honoured.”

Defence Minister Earl Howe said the convoymen completed a mission “which proved vital to the Allied war effort.

“Facing down both perilous weather and U-Boats, their determination and sacrifice should never be forgotten.”