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Martin Harris

Minister and Deputy Head of Mission to Russia

Part of UK in Russia

14th November 2014 Moscow, Russia

The Baltic Convoys

This week I have been commemorating Remembrance Day in the Russian Arctic port city of Murmansk, destination of the famous Arctic Convoys that ran the gauntlet of German submarines on the northern supply route between Britain and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

I have also been reflecting on a different convoy in a different war.

martinblog1 There is a tradition in Russia for families to bring out the photos of their relatives who were war veterans when Victory Day comes round. So in this week of Remembrance, here’s mine – my great grandfather, Captain Andrew Brown. He was a captain in the Merchant Navy, and made his living transporting timber and manufactured goods across the Baltic Sea between the UK and Russia.

During the First World War his cargo was armaments for the Russian armed forces, and his ship, the SS Penelope, was commissioned by the Russian Navy as part of its Transport Fleet to take part in the Baltic Convoys. It was dangerous work, with attacks from German positions on the shore, from the air and from the dreaded U-boats that wreaked havoc on British merchant shipping throughout the war.

The SS Penelope was among their victims, struck by a torpedo in the Baltic Sea at 10.15pm on the 24th August. In a few seconds the fore deck was under water, but Captain Brown made every effort to save the ship staying on board for three more days until the situation was hopeless and he was taken off by a Russian destroyer. For his bravery he was awarded by two monarchs – the Tsar of Russia gave him the Order of St Stanislas and King George V the Distinguished Service Cross. martinblog2

As one of the commanders of the ships in Baltic convoys he also received this beautiful silver and enamel badge, showing the flags and maps of Britain and Russia and commemorating the two nations’ cooperation in this joint war effort. It had pride of place in my grandmother’s cabinet in the front room of her home in Edinburgh, and represents a long link between my family and Russia which I maintain to this day.

4 comments on “The Baltic Convoys

  1. I found Martin Harris’s blog very interesting. I was left wondering whether, in view of the political changes which happened in Russia over those momentous years, the ship’s owner were ever given reparation for the loss of the Penelope.
    Though now retired from the FCO, I should add the reason for my personal interest. Many years later, in the 1960s, I too was in the Merchant Navy as a navigation officer cadet on Furness Withy’s MV Sagamore. My first journey was to Murmansk.

  2. Hi Martin,
    Glad to note the link between your family & Russia………..Must appreciate & Praise God’s planning that after 4 generation your family is still connected through diplomatic missions in Russia…………..last we heard was you were Amb in Romania………..when did u move to Moscow????

    Hope u r enjoying the service in St.Andrew’s Church with the new Chaplin Rev.Clive………..we all meet at the AD synod in Prague…….our greetings to Jenniffer from ur Chaplin…………Pls., stay in touch………welcome to Kyiv……….any time of the year.

  3. Am en route to Murmansk now to represent several NE English companies at the international business week 17-21 Nov. Will also visit museum to explore links with Arctic Convoy project in Loch Ewe, Scotland. We shall welcome some Russian convoy veterans to Newcastle in December.

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About Martin Harris

I am the Minister and Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Moscow. In my last job I was the Ambassador at the British Embassy in Bucharest. Previously I…

I am the Minister and Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy
in Moscow. In my last job I was the Ambassador at the British Embassy in
Bucharest. Previously I have served at the British Embassies in Kyiv
and Moscow as well as at the UK Delegation to the OSCE in Vienna.
I love music, especially opera, chamber and sacred music. I am
married to Linda MacLachlan. We have three daughters, Catriona, Tabitha
and Flora – and they have one dog Timur and two cats, Pushkin and Tolstoi.

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