Appeal for memories of Arctic convoy ship HMS Ulster Queen

The HMS Ulster Queen was converted into an anti-aircraft ship at Harland and Wolff
The HMS Ulster Queen was converted into an anti-aircraft ship at Harland and Wolff

A woman whose late father served on a Belfast-built Arctic convoy ship during the Second World War is appealing for anyone from Northern Ireland who also had loved ones on the vessel to contact her.

Leonard H Thomas served on the auxilliary anti-aircraft ship HMS Ulster Queen on four convoys to and from Murmansk and Archangel in Russia’s extreme north west from 1942 to 1945.

Leonard H Thomas kept war diaries but had to write them in a secret code

Leonard H Thomas kept war diaries but had to write them in a secret code

The ship was built in Belfast, and originally used as a civilian vessel, being later converted into an anti-aircraft vessel by Harland and Wolff.

Leona Thomas, 62, said her father had kept diaries or writings on the convoys by writing in code and keeping it secret – as should any of his diaries have been discovered he would have been in trouble.

She said his diaries contained “horrific details” of his experiences in the Arctic which were “perhaps one of the most horrific parts of the war for many of our veterans”.

Before he died in 2000, aged 88, Edinburgh man Leonard transcribed some of them into four A4 journals, which his daughter has now edited into a book.

Leona Thomas has written a book based on her father's war diaries

Leona Thomas has written a book based on her father's war diaries

Leona told the News Letter that after her book was published she “got talking to people in [film] production in Belfast who asked me if I knew if my father had mentioned any names of people from Northern Ireland he had been with on the HMS Ulster Queen”.

“At first I thought there was only the name of one Ulsterman with my father’s memoirs – but then I found a scrap of paper with four names: Billy Mann, a chief engineer from Co Down; petty officer W Harland from Belfast; leading telegraphist C Buxton from Londonderry; and 1st Lieutenant Commander GDP Townsend DSC RNR from Donaghadee.

“Wouldn’t it be brilliant if some of these families remember their loved ones talking about the ship and get in touch with me?

“The idea is if we could get more information from the families about the men who served on the Ulster Queen and try to perhaps help make a documentary about the ship and what happened because it is fascinating.”

Leona, whose mother was originally from Ballymoney, said she is “so grateful” that her father took time to write his memoirs from his coded diaries.

“When he retired in the late 1970s he used to get up every morning and write and write and write his memoirs,” she said.

“He had 20 thick notebooks full of all these writings which I then used to write my book.”

Anyone who would like to contact Leona should contact the News Letter on 02838 395577 or email newsdesk@newsletter.co.uk.