Arctic convoy veterans honoured in new book

Ice forms on a 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS Sheffield while she is helping to escort an Arctic convoy to Russia
Ice forms on a 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS Sheffield while she is helping to escort an Arctic convoy to Russia

A new book recounting the stories of volunteers who were part of the some of the most gruelling but crucial expeditions in the fight against the Nazis has been launched in Belfast.

The new book, titled ‘Nearness of Ice’ tells the stories of veterans from Northern Ireland who took part in the arctic convoy missions to ship essential supplies to some of the most northernmost cities in the USSR.

Veteran John Steen

Veteran John Steen

The arctic convoy missions involved thousands of allies shipping essential supplies to the icy cities of Murmansk and Archangelsk in Russia’s far north to aid in the communists’ fight against Nazi Germany

Eighty-five merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships (two cruisers, six destroyers, eight other escort ships) were lost in the missions.

The new book was put together over the course of two years by writer Kate Newmann, who spoke to veterans from Northern Ireland, some of whom attended the launch with their families.

Veteran John Steen, 89, from Coleraine served with the Merchant Navy from 1943 to 1947. He attended the launch of ‘Nearness of Ice’ in Belfast on Thursday, December 8.

Kate Newmann

Kate Newmann

“It was an adventure for me as I was only 16, leaving Coleraine to go on the missions and I couldn’t even swim. Most of the other boys were around the same age, some returned, but others didn’t.

“The people concerned here deserve recognition for what they have done. It’s an honour to know that my story has now been told and there’s a print of that for future generations to read.

“It’s been an amazing day, a day I will not forget for the rest of my life.”

In 2014, sixteen veterans from Northern Ireland were honoured for their role in the missions with the Ushakov Medal, presented by the Russian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Alexander Yakovenko, who also attended the book launch.

Speaking of her time collating the content for the book, Kate Newmann said: “I feel privileged to have met such fine, dignified, intelligent men. I was so impressed by their remarkable stories that I felt the world deserved to know more about them.

“During my time with the veterans and their families, I learned more than I ever knew I hadn’t known and they are truly amazing men.”

The publication was funded by the Pushkin Trust and The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

The Duchess of Abercorn, Honorary Consul to the Russian Federation in Northern Ireland and founder of the Pushkin Trust, said: “Today was a day for the veterans and they were fantastic. Their stories are now immortalised in a book and I am delighted that they will now live on forever.”