Brave NI sea men tell their chilling stories

The Duchess of Abercorn, Honorary Consul to the Russian Federation in Northern Ireland and founder of the Pushkin Trust, who will be at the book launch
The Duchess of Abercorn, Honorary Consul to the Russian Federation in Northern Ireland and founder of the Pushkin Trust, who will be at the book launch

A new book on the brave Northern Ireland volunteers who took part in one of the most gruelling expeditions during World War Two will be launched this week.

It is estimated the Arctic convoy missions involved up to 95,000 Allies shipping tanks, planes, munitions, food and other supplies to Russian soldiers who were fighting against Hitler’s troops at Murmansk and Archangelsk.

Back in 2014 a group of 16 veterans from Northern Ireland were honoured for their role in these missions with the Ushakov Medal.

Their stories of perilous voyages to the ‘top of the world’ have now been collated by poet and writer Kate Newmann into a permanent literary tribute to their bravery.

The book has been two years in the making and, sadly, five of those courageous Northern Irish sea men have since lost their lives.

Of the remaining 11 men, 10 will be present at the launch of ‘Nearness of Ice - Arctic Convoys’ in Crescent Arts Centre on Thursday at 11am.

The launch event will also be attended by The Duchess of Abercorn, Honorary Consul to the Russian Federation in Northern Ireland and founder of the Pushkin Trust.

In the foreword to the book, she said: “I felt that their story should be shared and immortalised in a book and I am particularly delighted that the noted poet and writer Kate Newmann has compiled their stories into this book, Nearness of Ice, that will live on forever.

“I believe their story exemplifies the power of human solidarity to overcome the axis of evil and how against all odds what is true triumphs in the end.”

The Arts Council commissioned Kate Newmann to write the book as they felt these men were unrepresented in the narrative of Northern Ireland and in the narrative of the Second World War.

Damian Smyth, Head of Literature and Drama at The Arts Council, commented: “The critical and often-overlooked heroism of these sailors was recognised in 2014 by the Russian Government with the award of the Ushakov Medal.

“Now, this small but valuable book, with its modest and sometimes shocking reflections on the campaign by surviving veterans in Northern Ireland, makes its own important contribution to the recovery and re-discovery of those days of unimaginable endurance and, it must be said, adventure.”

Author Kate Newmann said: “All the narratives are characterised by wit and compassion, and I feel privileged to have met such fine, dignified, intelligent men whose life-force is enviable.

“It is right and proper that their experiences are recorded in this book for everybody to read, and for us all to feel immensely proud and grateful.”