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Keith Allan

British High Commissioner to Mauritius

Part of UK in Russia [St Petersburg]

4th September 2015


My latest regional visit took me to the historical city of Arkhangelsk, which lies on the banks of the Northern Dvina River in north west Russia. Arkhangelsk is a fascinating city which is full of rich British/Russian history and indeed is where the British/Russian relationship began following the arrival of the explorer and navigator Richard Chancellor in 1553. Chancellor went on to meet Ivan the Terrible in Moscow and trading relations began.

I was in Arkhangelsk on 31 August to participate in events to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the arrival of the first of the Arctic Convoys, the ‘Dervish’, in Arkhangelsk in August 1941. These convoys delivered vital British aid to Russia during World War II and remain a very important part of our shared history. Between August 1941 and May 1945, around 1,400 merchant vessels escorted by ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and US Navy delivered supplies. 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy ships were lost during the convoys and over 3,000 British servicemen and their allies died. Winston Churchill described the convoys as the ‘worst journey in the world’.

Arkhangelsk - Artic Convoys monument

Autumn is not far off in northern Russia but luckily it was beautiful, sunny day in Arkhangelsk for our events. The Ambassador, Sir Tim Barrow, led our delegation and spoke at the ceremony for the unveiling of a new monument to the Arctic Convoys, which depicts a ship breaking through the ice. He noted the importance of the convoys to our shared history and the need to continue to remember and honour those who participated. We were delighted that a British veteran of the convoys, and Chairman of the Russian Convoy Club in London, Ernie Davies, was able to represent British veterans in Arkhangelsk.

Arkhangelsk - Veterans

There was also a wreath-laying ceremony on the Northern Dvina River near the memorial to ‘those who died at sea’, and we laid a wreath at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in honour of those who died during the Arctic Convoys and also during the earlier Allied intervention of 1918-19. Worth mentioning that the ship RRS Discovery, which took Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica in 1901-04, was also used to ship supplies to Russia during World War I, and indeed visited Arkhangelsk in November 1915. I recently visited Discovery in her home port of Dundee.

Arkhangelsk - Discovery

The Mayor of Arkhangelsk, Victor Pavlenko, and his team did an excellent job in delivering appropriate and dignified events to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the ‘Dervish’ convoy. The heroic role of the convoys in World War II remains extremely important to Russia and is a key part of our shared history agenda. We have already started working on arrangements for the 75th anniversary on 31 August 2016. This will be another opportunity to remember and honour those who took part in the ‘worst journey in the world’.


  1. Interesting comments.James w. Tassie was my brother who was also in PQ17 group he was on the Zafaaran when she went down, but fortunately he was one of the few rescued and went on to spend around several months in a Hospital in Murmansk or Archangel, not sure which.I may have more info. if I find anything else I will post it on this site.Bless them all.

  2. Здравствуйте. Низкий поклон от граждан России за арктические конвои и неоценимый вклад в борьбе с общим врагом под названием фашизм.
    Hello. A low bow from the citizens of Russia in the Arctic convoys and invaluable contribution to the fight against the common enemy called fascism.
    Documentary. Arctic convoy “Dervish”. 75 anniversary.
    Arkhangelsk to mark 75th anniversary of Arctic convoys.

  3. my father Commander Robert W. Ellis (Bob) sailed on HMS Hazard,and HMS Seagull, from the beginning of the Convoys until the !st Minesweeper Flotilla left in 1944 for D-Day,sweeping the French beaches. He was rewarded with DSC 1943 and Bar 1946,and 3 mentions in Despatches.Bob thought that he was one of the longest serving officers in Arctic waters.
    We do not have a photo of my father in his uniform, though we do have his actual uniform,cap and great coat. If any one has such a photo, or memories of him,I would be so grateful if they could contact me,his daughter, Carolyn Jones.Thank you.

    1. Dear Mrs Carolyn Jones,
      Unfortunately I don’t have any information regarding your father but you might want to contact Arctic Convoys veteran Mr Bob Owen who has a lot of information about the convoys participants and he is pleased to share it. His e-mail is veraandbob@uwclub.net

      Kind regards,
      Consul General Keith Allan

  4. My father was on the PQ17 convoy travelling to Archangel on the Halcyon. If there is anyone who was on this ship or might have known my father Stanley Sainsbury I would really like to get in touch.

    Ann Stagg nee Sainsbury

  5. Have been in contact with Archangelsk library to try to locate memorial to the crew of the mineclearing trawler “John High” sunk by mine 7th August 1916, long.41d10’E, lat. 67d34’N, whilst clearing mines in the approaches to Archangel. James R Graham, my grandfathers brother, was skipper of the vessel, and my grandmother was sent a photo, which I have, of the memorial in Archangel, dedicated 13/26 Nov. 1916, as his next of kin. It seems most likely location would have been St Georges church attached to British Consulate, but subsequently demolished. Is it likely the memorial was re-located when Consulate closed?Any help would be appreciated. Many thanks, Tom Graham.

  6. My father John Burns from Edinburgh .. Was part of Scotland Russian Convoy Club. 3 Convoy missions . He was our hero.
    Thank you Russia for showing your appreciation.
    We will remember them ..

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About Keith Allan

I have been British High Commissioner in Mauritius since August 2017. I was previously HM Consul General in St Petersburg, Russia, and used this blog to share my thoughts on…

I have been British High Commissioner in Mauritius since August 2017. I was previously HM Consul General in St Petersburg, Russia, and used this blog to share my thoughts on shared history and visits to cities and regions throughout Russia. In Mauritius, I will look to highlight some of the cultural and historical relations between the UK and Mauritius. Prior to St Petersburg, I was HM Ambassador to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and also had another posting to Central Asia (Tashkent) in the late 90s. I was also HM Consul General in Miami and have worked in Trinidad & Tobago and Botswana, so Mauritius is not my first posting on an island or in Africa. I was born in Glasgow and am married with three children who thankfully also love to travel. You can also follow my activities on Twitter @HCKeithAllan