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This visit was reciprocal to the Russian hospitality when a group of British veterans of the Arctic Convoys visited Saint Petersburg in August/September 2014 year for the 73rd Anniversary of the First Arctic Convoy ‘Dervish’ and the unveiling of the Memorial ‘In Memory of the Arctic Convoy Sailors’.
In his welcome message ahead of the Russian veterans’ arrival, the former 1st Sea Lord, Admiral the Right Honourable Baron West of Spithead GCB DSC PC ADC said:
I wish the brave Russian veterans a wonderful visit to the UK. I know their brothers in arms, the British veterans of the Arctic convoys, have always been royally looked after on their visits to Russia. More than 70 years ago their joint bravery and fortitude enabled the Soviet Union to survive and sealed the fate of the Third Reich. We owe them a great deal and have great pride in their achievements.
The eight Russian veterans who visited Britain are: Chairman of the Polar Convoy Club Yuri Alexandrov (St. Petersburg), Anatoli Lifshits (St. Petersburg), Lidia Ananeva (St. Petersburg), Taras Goncharenko (St. Petersburg), Boris Davydov (Moscow), Alexander Lochagin (Moscow), Valeri Rodivilin (Moscow) and Valentin Soldatov (Moscow).
The veterans were accompanied by: Director of the International Marine and Adventure Film Festival ‘The Sea is Calling’ Captain Sergei Aprelev (St. Petersburg); Vice-president of the Polar Convoy Club and Chief Editor of the ‘Maritime Heritage’ magazine Captain Igor Kozyr (St. Petersburg); Adviser to the Chief Military Attaché of the British Embassy in Russia, Colonel of aviation Alexander Goncharov (Moscow); author, playwright, theatre and film director Pyotr Gladilin (Moscow); film director, producer, writer and TV presenter Alexander Sorokin (St. Petersburg); Chief Editor of the ‘Russian Maecenas’ magazine Arkadi Sosnov (St. Petersburg); news cameraman Algis Mikulskis (St. Petersburg); project photographer Svetlana Ragina (St. Petersburg); interpreter and veteran’s granddaughter Vera Lifshits (St. Petersburg).
ARRIVAL – Monday 22 December
The Moscow group arrived in St. Petersburg on the fast ‘Sapsan’ train generously offered granting by ‘RZD’ Russian Railways, at the Pulkovo airport to unite with their St. Petersburg friends.
On their arrival at Heathrow on the British Airways flight from St. Petersburg, on 22 December 2014, the Russian veterans and their accompanying group were met by the visit organiser, Honorary member of The Russian Convoy Club (London & Home Counties) Eugene Kasevin of The Russia House Ltd. and later by the Facilities Manager of The Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Gavin Tiffin. The same evening, the Russians were joined by their longstanding friend, the renowned British violinist Litsa Tunnah. The Russians spent their first night in the Counting House Lodge of Guy’s Hospital, London Bridge.
In the early morning of 23 December, the Russians took a four and half hour train journey to Edinburgh, as first class passengers generously provided by the East Coast railway company. It was on this route when Russian and British passengers together with the train crew offered their first congratulations to the Russian veteran Anatoli Lifshits on his 96th birthday.
EDINBURGH – Tuesday 23 December
Scotland’s capital City, Edinburgh became the first point of call on Tuesday 23rd December. The party was hosted throughout their stay in Edinburgh by The Royal British Legion Scotland (Legion Scotland). The visit started with a reception at the Scotland Office, 1 Melville Crescent, with both Russian and local veterans of the Arctic Convoys, many of whom have been already awarded their Ushakov Medals. The veterans were greeted by the Rt. Hon. David Mundell, the Scotland Office Minister, Pat Reid, the Provost of Falkirk, John Patrick, Deputy Provost and the National Vice Chairperson of Legion Scotland Janet Harvey.
Commander Yuri Alexandrov, Chairman of the Polar Convoy Club (St. Petersburg), presented Janet Harvey with the specially made commemorative plaque containing a piece of a 99-millimetre gun shell of the S.S. Thomas Donaldson Liberty ship sunk by U-968 boat on 20 March 1945 in the Barents Sea. The gun shell was raised from 171 feet (52 metres) on 21 July 2010 by Kildin-2010 expedition initiated by the Polar Convoy Club.
The symbolic gift titled by Yuri Alexandrov ‘The Hallows of Great Victory’, was engraved ‘To Edinburgh & Lothian veterans of WW2 from the Polar Convoy Club, St. Petersburg’.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland, The Rt. Hon. David Mundell MP, welcomed the veterans:
On behalf of the UK Government and the people of Scotland it is a great pleasure to welcome UK and Russian Arctic Convoy veterans to Edinburgh and to host a reception in their honour.
Following a wreath laying ceremony at the Leith Merchant Navy Memorial, which was accompanied by the dazzling violin performance of Litsa, Russian and British veterans travelled to Legion Scotland’s Grangemouth Branch and Club where they were welcomed by the Legion’s Standard-bearers and the Scottish bagpipes before enjoying their first traditional Christmas dinner in the warm atmosphere of brotherhood with their Scottish shipmates and friends.
After the overnight stay in Fort William, the Russians took a picturesque coach route through the Highlands to the northern City of Inverness. On their route, the Russian veterans paid respect to The Commando Memorial in Lochaber, Highlands.
The Commando Memorial is a listed monument in Scotland, dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces raised during the Second World War. Situated around a mile from Spean Bridge village, it overlooks Ben Nevis and the training areas of the Commando Training Depot established in 1942 at Achnacarry Castle.
INVERNESS – Wednesday 24 December
In the Town House of Inverness, the local veterans, the Provost of Inverness Councillor Alex Graham, City Manager David Haas, Chairman of the Arctic Convoys Museum in Loch Ewe George Milne, and other members of Inverness community welcomed the Russians with Christmas Eve lunch and entertainment organised by The Highland-Russia Connection Charity.
Commander Yuri Alexandrov presented the Provost of Inverness with the second piece of the S.S. Thomas Donaldson Liberty ship gun shell engraved ‘To Inverness & Highlands veterans of WW2 from the Polar Convoy Club, St. Petersburg’. The Russian veterans and the Provost exchanged the emblems of the Club and the City.
Councillor Alex Graham welcomed the Russian visitors:
It is a great privilege to welcome the Russian convoy veterans to Inverness and the Town House on this Christmas Eve.
Following the festivities with Highlands folk music, Litsa’s violin and the 12-year old Town House single malt, the Russians returned to Edinburgh to get ready for their Christmas morning trip to Newcastle.
NEWCASTLE – Thursday 25 December
Newcastle – the former home of the North East shipbuilders where the icebreaker ‘Krasin’ was built by Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd in 1917 which later took part in many of the Arctic Convoys. Today the icebreaker is a museum in St. Petersburg.
In Newcastle, the Russian veterans were welcomed with a traditional Christmas Lunch at Avondale House on the Byker Estate hosted by the residents of Newcastle’s largest veterans’ rehabilitation centres AF&V Launchpad charity.
Commander Yuri Alexandrov presented the Newcastle Arctic Convoy Veteran Fred Jewett (91) with the third piece of the S.S. Thomas Donaldson Liberty ship gun shell engraved ‘To Newcastle & Tyneside veterans of WW2 from the Polar Convoy Club, St. Petersburg’. The founder and a trusty of AF&V Launchpad Major Ken McMillan was presented with the emblem of The Polar Convoy Club.
Major Ken McMillan said:
We must never forget the sacrifices the Russian and British people made in order to defeat the evil of Nazi Germany. We younger veterans of more recent conflicts are proud to host these – our Brothers in Arms, on Christmas Day.
David Hayles (a veteran of the Afghan conflict) said:
It is a real honour to host this delegation on Christmas Day. It’s amazing to meet these people who were so lucky to survive a war that compares to no other.
Christmas celebrations were topped by the 86th Birthday of Alexander Lochagin and continued in the hotel restaurant, which brought further meetings with the locals before veterans retired for a good night sleep before departing for London on an early easyJet flight on Boxing Day morning.
LONDON – Friday 26 December
Boxing Day in London started with a festive reception in the Banquet Hall of St. Thomas’ Hospital overlooking the Thames and Westminster Palace. This is where long-standing friends, members of The Polar Convoy Club (St. Petersburg) and The Russian Convoy Club (London & Home Counties) met to the ‘Up Spirits!’ toast with Pusser’s Rum.
A very generous lunch with venison, fine wine and Christmas cake hosted by The Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust was preceded by Commander Yuri Alexandrov’s presentation of forth piece of the gun shell relic to The Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, which was accepted by the Head of Spiritual Health Care and Chaplaincy Reverend Mia Hilborn. The fifth piece of the relic was presented to the Imperial War Museum, which was accepted by the Minister of Justice and Civil Liberties, The Rt. Hon. Simon Hughes MP (Bermondsey and Old Southwark), who joined the veterans for the festive lunch. The sixth piece of the gun shell was presented to the HMS Belfast Association and was accepted by its Honorary Administrator, Wally Filby.
The Russian Matryoshka gifts, brought by the veterans for the children of Evelina Hospital, were placed under the Christmas tree, ready to reach their young recipients in January.
Emotional interaction between the Russian veterans and the British Ernie Kennedy, Stanley Ballard and David Kennedy brought for the reunion from various locations in Greater London by cabs of The London Taxi Benevolent Association for War Disabled, became the highlight of the day.
In his welcome greeting to the veterans at the St. Thomas’ Hospital reception, Simon Hughes said:
On behalf of the British Government and the people of Southwark, I am very pleased to welcome both Russian and British veterans of the Arctic Convoys to London on this Boxing Day. The spirit of unity is very strong, and we must continue this legacy of bond between the people of our two nations forged by the joint victory in the Second World War. I feel very privileged to be with you on this important day.
The day concluded with a tea reception at the Russian Ambassador’s Residence in Kensington where Litsa Tunnah performed Prokofiev’s Sonata in honour of the Russian veterans. The reception was hosted by the Chargé d’affaires of the Russian Embassy, Alexander Kramarenko.
PORTSMOUTH – Saturday 27 December
On the morning of 27 December, the Russians took an early train journey to Portsmouth generously provided by South West Trains.
Upon arrival in Portsmouth, the veterans were given a grand tour aboard the legendary HMS Victory, courtesy of The National Museum of The Royal Navy.
At 1 pm, the Russian visitors enjoyed a splendid lunch in the ships company of HMS Victory generously hosted by the Vice-President of HMS Belfast Association Captain Mike Matthews RN. The toast ‘To Eternal Memories!’ was raised to the two legendary admirals – British Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) and Russian Fiodor Ushakov (1745-1817) with the traditional tots of Pusser’s Rum. Yuri Alexandrov presented the two specially made commemorative mahogany plaques with The Polar Club emblem to HMS Victory and Captain Mike Matthews RN.
The same afternoon, a ceremony of Ushakov Medal presentation to 36 local veterans of the Arctic Convoys took place in the Princess Royal Gallery of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in the presence of Russian veterans. The medals were presented by the Russian Naval Attaché Captain Oleg Kornienko. The ceremony was opened by Captain Mike Matthews RN.
Commander Yuri Alexandrov presented the seventh piece of the S.S. Thomas Donaldson Liberty ship gun shell engraved ‘To the National Museum of the Royal Navy’ to the Assistant Customer Care Manager of the Museum, Hannah Griffen. The eighth piece was presented to the Chairman of the Hampshire County branch of The Royal British Legion, Bill Bates, engraved ‘To Portsmouth & Hampshire veterans of WW2 from the Polar Convoy Club, St. Petersburg’. A canapé reception with Russian Standard Vodka, generously sponsored by The Royal British Legion (London HQ), followed the formal part of the ceremony, at which point Litsa Tunnah offered her final on this trip’s poignant performances of Bach’s Chaconne for the veterans.
The Russian delegation departed the UK on the morning of Sunday 28 December 2014 ready to reunite with their families for the New Year celebrations in Russia.
On his departure from London, the oldest Russian veteran Anatoli Lifshits (96) stated:
I was very curious to find out whether the people of Great Britain remember us. We fought together, we won together and together we helped our nations. I am now very pleased to say that we are very much remembered and loved in this country despite any current political folly.
Following the Russian delegation’ return to Russia, the visit organiser Eugene Kasevin stated:
The envisaged goal of this historic visit has been successfully achieved. The British peoples’ support for the Russian and the UK veterans at every point of our destination was demonstrated at the highest level, with greatest sincerity and warmth. Both Russian and UK veterans have thoroughly enjoyed their reunions that created numerous moments of sheer happiness these heroes deserve. This visit laid many new cornerstones on which new, sound relationships between the people of Great Britain and Russia will now be built.
WITH PERSONAL THANKS TO OUR INDIVIDUAL PARTNERS:
Mr. Georgiy Voronin (Russia)
Captain Mike Matthews RN (UK)
Mr. Peter Hambro (UK)
WITH GRATITUDE TO OUR PARTNER ORGANISATIONS:
The Guy’s and St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust (UK)
Volga-Dnepr Group (Russia)
‘RZD’ Russian Railways (Russia)
East Coast rail network (UK)
South West Trains (UK)
HMS Belfast Association (UK)
Blackthorne International Transport Ltd (UK)
Clyde & Co LLP (UK)
In2Matrix Ltd (UK)
Legion Scotland (UK)
The Highland Council (UK)
AV&F Launchpad (UK)
The Royal British Legion (UK)
The London Taxi Benevolent Association for War Disabled (UK)
Russian Embassy in London (Russia)
Russian Consulate General in Edinburgh (Russia)
The Highland-Russia Connection Charity (UK)
British Business Club Moscow (UK/Russia)
Anglo-Russian Centre in North East England (UK)
Book My Minibus Hire (UK)
WITH THANKS TO INDIVIDUALS WHO SUPPORTED THIS VISIT:
Neil Cooper, John Metcalfe, Simon Janion, Ralph Land, Steven Landes, Rob Dykes, Alexey Goreslavskiy, Maxim Izotov, Egor Avdeev, Tatiana Nye, Elena Reid, Tracy Duguid, Alexei Kapkin, Gavin Melluish, David Wansbrough-Jones, Julia Prisenko, Peter Nockolds, John Romano, Joshua Hughes, Eva Sulej, Jane Broadbent.
VISIT ORGANISER: The Russia House Ltd.