The Arctic Convoys of WWII set sail from the United Kingdom, North America and Iceland between August 1941 and May 1945, transporting around a quarter of the vital commodities and supplies needed by the allies in Russia. There were seventy-eight of these convoys, and eighty-five merchant vessels and sixteen warships were lost over their duration, with more than three-thousand casualties.
This Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, collected oral histories of the surviving veterans in Wiltshire as a lasting testament of their service during the Second World War. The main part of the project took place in 2014 after the veterans were awarded their Arctic Star medals. The resulting testimonies and resources were used by young people in Chippenham to create poetry and storyboards. The veterans' stories and associated records are available for public use at the History Centre in Chippenham and will no doubt be of added interest as we approach the seventy-fifth anniversary of the final convoy in 2019.
The project was developed in association with volunteers from the Trowbridge White Ensign Association and photographic portraits were taken of each of the veterans. Local schoolchildren were also involved, creating short films which made use of the veterans' testimonies and which can be seen on these pages. Further use of the resources was made by local scouts and secondary school students who, through a series of workshops with poet Dawn Gorman, created poems and storyboards reflecting the experiences of the sailors. You can read their poems here.
Young men like Richard Jaggar were conscripted and some ended up in the Navy. He was on board HMS Royalist and involved in wider operations including special trips to attack German battleships like Tirpitz. He talks of Convoy PQ 17 which was the first Anglo-American convoy and suffered heavy losses after being intercepted by German vessels; indeed, only eleven of the thirty-five vessels made it to Arkhangelsk, Russia. This illustrated the immense difficulties in traversing the Arctic conditions.
Related Internet links:
- Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Project
- Artic Convoys on Wikipedia
- BBC Two - PQ 17: An Arctic Convoy Disaster
- Imperial War Museum Arctic Convoys
- Royal Museums Greenwich Arctic Convoys
- National Maritime Museum's Arctic Convoys album on Flickr
- National Museums Scotland Arctic Convoys (includes audio recordings)