Arctic Convoys


Bill LloydA guest post by Bill Lloyd

This year, the BBC Proms 2013 celebrate the composer George Lloyd’s centenary year with a performance of his HMS Trinidad March at the Last Night of The Proms on 7 September 2013. George’s nephew Bill Lloyd tells us the story behind the march and George’s experiences aboard HMS Trinidad during the Arctic Convoys.

Our exhibition Arctic Convoys was at the National War Museum until March 2014. It told the story of the ocean-going convoys of merchant and military ships that provided an essential lifeline to the Russians in their fight against Germany in the Second World War.

My uncle George Lloyd participated in the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War and in 1941 he composed a march for the Royal Marine Band of HMS Trinidad, the ship that he sailed upon. The orchestral arrangement that will be performed at The Proms was completed by George in 1945 while he was recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, following an attack on his ship.

George was only 26 when war was declared in September 1939. He had already gained considerable recognition as a composer: the 1938 Oxford Companion to Music described him as “a youthful prodigy” and his first opera Iernin had played in the West End.

George enlisted in the Royal Marines as a bandsman. After basic training, George was immediately promoted to the position of leading violin. He was also asked to learn the cornet!

In the Royal Marines George studied gunnery before joining HMS Trinidad, one of the fastest and most technically advanced vessels in the Navy’s fleet. Along with the other bandsmen, George worked in the ship’s transmitting station calculating the exact elevation and bearing that the gun turrets required in order to hit enemy ships. George operated the telephone switchboard, relaying orders to the bridge and the gunnery control tower because his loud voice could carry over the deafening noise of the guns. This role would ultimately save his life as the switchboard was located close to the exit ladder of the transmitting station.

When HMS Trinidad was commissioned on 14 October 1941, bandmaster Harold A Davis asked George to write the ship’s official march. Unbeknown to Harold, a friend of the ship’s captain, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, had also been invited to write a march. The captain agreed to listen to both men’s marches and decide which was to be used. Vaughan Williams’ march was not popular with the bandsmen and when both pieces were premiered in the ship’s aircraft hangar, the captain announced that George’s music would be adopted as the HMS Trinidad’s official march. George’s rousing march echoes the role of the Fantasia on British Sea Songs traditionally played at the Last Night of the Proms, with its links to the Navy and its catchy tunes and up tempo rhythms, which encourage audience participation.

Royal Marine Band

The Band of HMS Trinidad at Heybrook Barracks, 1941. Image © George Lloyd Society.

In January 1942, HMS Trinidad was selected for Arctic convoy escort duties to Murmansk through a narrow stretch of water between the North Cape and the pack ice, which was heavily patrolled by German submarines and the Luftwaffe.

On 23 March 1942, after two successful convoys, HMS Trinidad was deployed as close escort for 20 merchant ships in convoy PQ13. However, near the start of the voyage, high winds forced the convoy to separate – only for it to be attacked by German U-boats when it reassembled.

Three German destroyers sailed from Norway to intercept the convoy but on the morning of 29 March 1942, the German ships were picked up on HMS Trinidad’s radar. In the poor visibility, HMS Trinidad launched a surprise attack, hitting two German ships and evading the torpedo fired from the third. HMS Trinidad however was hit by a shell which caused a fire towards its stern. With minimal damage HMS Trinidad relocated the third German ship and opened fire again, hitting the destroyer several times and causing serious damage, as well as setting it on fire.

In an attempt to finish off the enemy destroyer, HMS Trinidad fired three torpedoes. Two of the torpedoes failed to leave their iced-up tubes and the third malfunctioned and circled back, striking HMS Trinidad below the bridge. The torpedo blew a 60×20 foot hole in the port side of the ship, and emerged from the starboard side blowing a further 20×10 foot hole.

George was the last man to escape from the transmitting station after it began to flood with the ship’s oil. 32 men were killed in the attack including 17 men in the transmitting station, nine of whom were bandsmen.

On 13 May 1942 following temporary repairs, HMS Trinidad was being escorted back to the UK when enemy aircraft, U-boats and destroyers surrounded the convoy. HMS Trinidad evaded most of the attacks but four bombs dropped by German aircraft set the ship alight. The fire was fatal to HMS Trinidad and the ship sank in the early hours of 15 May 1942 taking a further 63 men with her.

By mid-April, George had been admitted to the Royal Naval Auxiliary Hospital at Kingseat in Aberdeen, which treated cases of severe shell shock. Initially, George was unable to walk or speak, and his body was heavily contaminated with oil. His vision was affected and his muscles were torn and swollen into lumps. As the initial concussion wore off, he developed a profound and severe shaking of his limbs and his head, a contorted facial expression and periodic blackouts.

Three weeks later Nancy, George’s wife, received a letter from her husband who, in child-like writing, told her what had happened. Despite having been told by George that she was not to see him in his current state, Nancy travelled to Aberdeen immediately and proceeded to visit him every day.

With great persistence, Nancy persuaded George’s doctor to discharge him into her care and she then began the long slow task of nursing him back to health. George was not an easy patient. He refused to meet anyone and refused to speak unless Nancy prompted him. His shaking was still so bad that he was unable to walk far and he suffered from recurring nightmares, flashbacks and depression.

By the summer of 1944, after two years of care, George began to regain his strength and start gardening. Within weeks of the war ending in 1945, George and Nancy travelled to Nancy’s home in Switzerland, where they had met and married nine years earlier. George was having fewer blackouts and less frequent nightmares, and had recovered sufficiently to be able to hold a pen and write normally. He was a civilian once again, and with a small naval disability pension to live on, he began to think about returning to work as a composer.

In January 1946, George decided to start by orchestrating the HMS Trinidad March. The manuscript for the march had been safely in George’s kit bag when he was taken to hospital, otherwise it would have gone to the bottom of the sea when the ship sank. Within a few months he had persuaded Ernest Ansermet to perform it with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. The recording was broadcast on Swiss National Radio.

Members of Royal Marine Band

When off duty, George and three fellow ‘bandies’ played jazz – they called themselves ‘The Four Musketeers’. Image © George Lloyd Society.

It was a long hard road, but within a year or two George was composing some of his finest works – his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies were both written in Switzerland.

Although George tried his best to re-establish his career by writing to every prominent conductor, orchestra and broadcaster in Europe and the USA, by 1952 he had realised that his psychological health could not stand the pressures of life in the fast lane – opera production and symphony concerts were simply too stressful, and he was too volatile, too easily upset, and too susceptible to depression and mood swings. He made a conscious decision that his composition was more important than performance, and that his priority was to recover his mental strength.

One hundred years earlier in 1848, George’s hero, Giuseppe Verdi, suffering from a mental block that prevented him from composing, retreated to the country and became a farmer. George followed suit. He and Nancy bought a tiny cottage with an acre of land near Sherborne in Dorset and set about earning their living as market gardeners.

With Nancy’s help and the therapeutic effects of physical labour, George gradually rehabilitated himself. He built his own greenhouses and sheds, and while Nancy took care of the picking and packing, George raised carnations and tomatoes from seed. Within a year or two, George and Nancy’s blooms were gaining top prices at Covent Garden Market. George rose early every morning in order to write music.

Forty years later, George said: “People ask me, ‘wasn’t that a terrible waste of time, to be out of the music scene for so long’ and I tell them ‘Not at all – I had no choice. I got my health back.’ If it was good enough for Verdi, it was good enough for me!”

A full account of George’s time at the Royal Marines School of Music, and details of the events surrounding the torpedo strike on HMS Trinidad, all taken from contemporary letters, can be downloaded from www.georgelloyd.com which also has biographical details and audio samples.

A guest post by Kirke Kook, National Museums Scotland Collections Volunteer and Community Collector for the Science Museum telegram project

In February this year I was offered a unique opportunity to be involved in an exciting project initiated by the Science Museum in London, which aims to narrate British history through telegram messages.

Whilst museums, when displaying the history of communication, usually concentrate on the thrilling machinery used to send telegrams, the stories that telegrams tell have remained largely unexplored.

Constructing their new Information Age gallery, London Science Museum has decided to display not only the machines, but also the spectrum of messages that were sent through them. During the past few months, I have been involved in preparations to record telegrams not only for the benefit of the Science Museum’s collection, but also for the National Museum of Scotland.

I am currently contacting local museums, societies and associations in Scotland which could help spread the word about the project in their communities. After establishing my contacts, I will invite people to bring in their telegrams, which I will then scan. People have an option to either donate the original telegram to either of the museums or to allow me to add a digital copy to their preferred museum’s collections.

Telegram sent to the Royal Scottish Museum

Doing business: telegram announcing the dispatch of a new addition to the museum’s collection in 1924.

Telegram drama

Telegram drama: a message delaying a museum visit to the Wanlockhead Lead Mining Company due to an accident in their mining shaft, also in 1924.

Although the official collecting campaign is taking place in July, I have already scanned some great telegrams brought in by the staff and volunteers of National Museums Scotland. I have got a flavour of British India in the 1890s, and experienced life in the roaring ‘70s via telegrams sent by a staff member’s father (a member of a rock band) to her mother (a Lionel Blair girl), both touring the country with their troupes.

Sending love: message from Lloyd to his girlfriend, a Lionel Blair girl, sent in 1973

Sending love: message from Lloyd to his girlfriend, a Lionel Blair girl, sent in 1973.

Some other telegrams, however, have more intimate stories to tell, for example, a grandmother announcing her arrival from France to help to care for a grandchild gravely ill with meningitis.

Lending a helping hand: telegram from a grandmother announcing her arrival at Heathrow, 1976.

Lending a helping hand: telegram from a grandmother announcing her arrival at Heathrow, 1976.

Earlier in May I had a fantastic opportunity to travel to Aultbea in the Scottish Highlands to introduce the project to the veterans of the Russian Arctic Convoys. Anna McKessock, daughter of one of the men serving in the Arctic Convoys in the 1940s, holds the train ticket and telegram sent to her father, Stanley, to inform him of the death of his mother. However, the return trip from Aberdeen turned into an adventure of its own:

“His mother died when he was based in the South of England and he had gone home to Aberdeen for her funeral. He was sitting on the train from Aberdeen back down south and… a group of lassies got on the train somewhere outside Newcastle and started talking to him. The next thing he knew, they pulled him off the train and he ended up spending the day at their work – a Newcastle brewery! They were brilliant lassies… he got free beer all day. He made it back to his ship but he cannae remember how…” tells Anna.

Telegram stories with tea & cake: meeting the Russian Arctic Convoys veterans in May 2013

Telegram stories with tea & cake: meeting the Russian Arctic Convoys veterans in May 2013.

Talking to the veterans and local villagers in Aultbea showed me how unique the riches can be that so many people hide at home! I am very happy that I can be part of unveiling Scotland’s telegram stories and I hope that people will continue to help me share their experiences, whether personal or wrapped in local or national history.

David B CraigA guest post by David B Craig, SS  Dover Hill

David’s story was one of several told in Arctic Convoys, a past exhibition at the National War Museum about the oceangoing convoys of merchant and military ships that provided an essential lifeline to the Russians in their fight against Germany in the Second World War.

In the Supplement to the London Gazette of Friday 8th October 1943 there was a list of names of nineteen Merchant Navy Officers and Men; five were given the Order of the British Empire and fourteen were given King’s Commendations for brave conduct. The citation read, very simply, “For dangerous work in hazardous circumstances”.

I feel that the story should be told about why the names of these men appeared in the London Gazette. I write the story as I remember it but I write on behalf of the nineteen men, as we all worked together and none of us did anything different from the others.

On 13th January 1943 I joined the SS Dover Hill at anchor off Gourock in the Clyde.  I had signed on as Radio Officer and, on going on board ship, discovered that we were bound for North Russia. We were heavily loaded with Fighter Aircraft, tanks, guns lorries and a large tonnage of shells and high explosives. Our deck cargo was made up of lorries in cases, Matilda tanks and drums of lubricating oil covered with a layer of sandbags, presumably to protect them from tracer bullets. Needless to say we were not very happy about this last item.

David on his return from Russia in 1943.

David on his return from Russia in 1943.

We left the Clyde on 23rd January and arrived in Loch Ewe on the 25th, where we lay at anchor until the rest of the merchant ships had gathered for our convoy. Loch Ewe is a very beautiful place to visit in the summer but in January/February, with a North Westerly gale blowing and a few, large, heavily laden merchant ships dragging their anchors, it could get a bit hectic at times.

Arctic Convoys memorial at Loch Ewe in the Highlands of Scotland

Arctic Convoys memorial at Loch Ewe in the Highlands of Scotland.

On 15th February twenty-eight merchant ships set out in a gale for North Russia in the heavily defended Convoy No.JW 53. The escort was made up of three cruisers, one anti-aircraft cruiser, one escort carrier, sixteen destroyers, two minesweepers, three corvettes and two trawlers, which was a very good escort, and as the daylight hours were getting longer, trouble was obviously expected.

Due to having to maintain absolute wireless silence, the Radio Officers stood their watches on the bridge with the Navigation Officers on duty.

As we sailed North the gale developed into a hurricane and ships began to get damaged. One of our cruisers, HMS Sheffield, had the top of her forward gun turret torn off and our escort carrier, HMS Dasher, and six of the merchant ships were damaged and had to return to Iceland. On our ship the deck cargo began to break adrift and we were not sorry to see the oil drums going over the side, but when the lorries in wooden cases were smashed up and eventually went overboard things were not so good. However, we managed to save the tanks and kept on battering our way northwards.

I remember trying to use an Aldis lamp from our bridge to signal to a Corvette and found it very difficult since one minute she would be in sight, then she would go down the trough of the wave and all I could see would be her top masts; then up she would come and our ship would go down and all that could be seen was water, but eventually we got the message through. At one stage the convoy was well scattered but as the weather moderated the Navy rounded us all up and got us into some semblance of order once again.

The loss of our escort carrier meant that we had no air cover and, as expected, a few days later a German spotter plane arrived and flew round the convoy all the daylight hours to keep an eye on us. The next day we had a heavy attack by JU 88 bombers in which our ship was damaged and our gunlayer was wounded by bomb splinters, but we still kept plodding on towards North Russia. At this part of the voyage we were steaming through pancake ice floes which protected us from the U-boats, which could not operate in these conditions. The blizzards when they came were always welcome as they hid us from the enemy.

SS Dover Hill

SS Dover Hill.

Two days later, on 27th February, we arrived at the entrance to the Kola Inlet, which is a long fiord with hills on either side and the town of Murmansk situated near the top.  We had not lost any ships to the enemy and I must pay tribute to the good job done by the Royal Navy and our own D.E.M.S and Maritime Regiment Gunners on the merchant ships. Of the twenty-two merchantmen in our convoy, fifteen were bound for Murmansk and the remaining seven went on to the White Sea ports near Archangel. Little did we know at this time that we would not leave Russia until the end of November. The Navy ocean-going escorts which had taken us to the Inlet would now refuel and set off homeward with the empty ships from the previous convoy.

We were all very tired when we arrived because for the last few days we had either been on duty or at action stations for most of the time. So after picking up the Russian Pilot and setting off independently up the Kola Inlet we were looking forward to having a good sleep when we anchored near Murmansk. We were very quickly disillusioned when, about a mile up the Inlet, we passed a merchant ship on fire and her crew taking to the lifeboats. On asking the Pilot about the ship, which was from the previous convoy, he cheerfully told us that on the way down to meet us he had seen it being attacked by aircraft, obviously a common occurrence. We now understood why we had been fitted with so many Oerlikon and Bofors anti-aircraft guns to enable us to defend ourselves.

After two days at anchor we went alongside at Murmansk to discharge our cargo. The port was being bombed a good part of the time and one of our ships, the Ocean Freedom, was sunk alongside the quay near to us.

When we had discharged all our cargo we moved out and anchored about a mile apart on each side of the Inlet. We happened to be on the side nearest the German lines, which were only about ten miles away, and we were regularly attacked by ME 109 fighter bombers, which used to come over the top of the hill, down the side and come tearing at us about twenty to thirty feet above the water and would drop their bombs as they flew over us just above our top masts. Our gunners were very skilled and used to open fire only when the planes came well within range. These attacks only lasted for about a minute but were very vicious and we had gunners wounded and damage again done to our ship. We shot one plane down into the Inlet and on another occasion we damaged one which got out of range before we could finish it off. The next ship anchored astern of us opened fire when the damaged plane came within range and it blew up. We only got a half credit for this one so ended up with one and a half swastikas painted on our funnel.

We now come to the incident whereby, to our surprise, our names appeared in the London Gazette.

David's report of the bomb disposal incident

David’s report of the bomb disposal incident.

On Sunday 4th April we were anchored in Misukovo Anchorage a few miles north of Murmansk and I was playing chess in the Officers’ mess when Action Stations sounded and our guns opened up at the same time. I went through the pantry, looked out of the door, and saw two JU88 bombers coming up from astern, high up. Our Bofors shells were bursting below them and when they turned away I assumed we had beaten them off and stepped out on deck. This was a foolish thing to do as, unknown to me, the planes had released their bombs before turning away.

Four bombs exploded close on the port side and one on the starboard side and I was blown off my feet. As I got up our gunlayer came down from one of the bridge oerlikons and pointed out a large round hole in the steel deck a few yards from where I had been standing. It was obvious that the sixth bomb had gone through the main and tween decks into our coal bunkers and had not exploded. We informed the S.B.N.O, Murmansk of the situation and were advised that there were no British Bomb Disposal people in North Russia. We then realised that we would have to dig the bomb out ourselves in order to save our ship.

The minesweeper HMS Jason was ordered to anchor astern of us and to come alongside to render assistance if the bomb should explode, although I doubt if there would have been much to pick up. You must understand that though the Dover Hill was only a battered old merchantman she was our home and no German was going to make us leave her while she was still afloat.

The Captain lined the whole crew up on the after deck and asked for volunteers, and nineteen of us including our Captain formed our own Bomb Disposal Squad. We had no bomb disposal equipment, in fact we only had a few shovels borrowed from our stokehold and nineteen stout hearts when we started digging back the coal, trying to find the bomb. The bunker was full of good British steaming coal which we were saving for the homeward run so we used a derrick to bring it up on deck, hoping to replace it when we got the bomb out.  When the Russian authorities heard what we were doing, although they had many unexploded bombs to deal with in the town, they kindly offered to send one of their Bomb Disposal officers to remove the detonator if we could get the bomb up on deck.

When we dug about ten feet down into the coal we found the tail fins and, by their size, decided our bomb must be a 1000lb one. Unfortunately the Germans also discovered what we were up to and came back and bombed us again, hoping to set off the bomb we were digging for.  Between bomb explosions and the concussion of our own guns the coal kept falling back into where we were digging and things got difficult at times.

We had to dig down approximately twenty-two feet before we got to the bomb, but after two days and two nights hard work we finally got it up on deck.

I was standing beside the bomb with two of my fellow officers as our Russian friend started to unscrew the detonator when after a few turns it stuck.  He then took a small hammer and a punch and tapped it to get it moving. I can honestly say that every time he hit it I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up against my duffle coat hood. After removing the detonator and primer we dumped the bomb into the Kola Inlet, where it probably lies to this day. We then moved back to Murmansk for repairs.

Of the fifteen ships which had come to Murmansk in February, one had been sunk and four damaged. On 17th May, in company with three other ships, we left the Kola Inlet and set out for the White Sea. We arrived in Economia on the North Dvina River where we stayed until 18th July when we moved to Molotovsk (Severodvinsk) and finally on 26th November, with eight other ships, some damaged, we set out for home.

Since it was now dark for almost twenty-four hours each day and we could only do seven knots maximum speed we went north to the edge of the ice. Knowing that a Russian-bound convoy was coming up to the south of us we expected the Germans to attack it and leave us alone. This in fact happened and we eventually arrived in London on 14th December 1943, in time to be home for Christmas.

The time spent in the White Sea area was mostly peaceful but our main problem was lack of food and for part of the time we suffered from malnutrition, but we survived.  I do not think it did us any harm as it makes us appreciate all the more the peaceful times we now live in.

When we sailed up London River towards Surrey Commercial Docks to pay off, with our Red Ensign flying and patches on our decks and side, we were proud of the old ship as if she had been a spick and span Navy vessel arriving in port. Incidentally, the Red Ensign had a hole in it where an Oerliken shell had gone through it during the fighting but it was the only one we had left.

After returning from North Russia, the Dover Hill was taken over by the Ministry of War Transport and was sunk at Arromanches on 9th June 1944 along with other ships to form an artificial port for the invasion of Normandy.

To finish on a personal note, I was the youngest of the young squad who took part in the incident in Misukovo Anchorage, having had my eighteenth birthday on the way up to Russia. I was no greenhand however, having joined my first ship in Plymouth as a Cadet in 1940 when I was fifteen years and three months old. Due to having a problem with my eyesight I was unable to continue in the Navigation Department and came ashore, went to the Wireless College and then returned to sea in the Radio Department.

I first returned to Murmansk in 1980, mainly to find the grave of a friend who had been killed in the port by a bomb splinter which went through his steel helmet. With the help of the Russian authorities I was able to do so. I went back in 1985 and again in 1987 with a group of veterans and we had great kindness and friendship shown to us by the people of Murmansk, who greatly appreciate the help we brought to them during the war. In 1987 I found out that the name of the Russian Bomb Disposal officer was Panin, and I later discovered from friends at the Northern Naval Museum in Murmansk that he had been killed in August 1943 in a dog fight with German aircraft over the Barents Sea.

I have since returned to Murmansk in 1991, 93, 95, 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2012. On various occasions I have taken part in the Victory Celebrations to mark the anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.

David on a cruise to Russia in June 2012

David on a cruise to Russia in June 2012.