- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Stanley Bowles
- Location of story:
- En route to Russia
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 September 2005
This story has been written onto the BBC People’s War site by CSV Storygatherer Lyn Hedges on behalf of Stanley Bowles. They fully understand the terms and conditions of the site.
I joined the Russian convoys on my 21st birthday. The convoys carried arms and ammunition, tanks and planes to Murmansk and Archangel in Russia and were vital to the allied war effort. I was on HMS Berwick and the convoy was 10 miles long. Conditions were very hard. The weather was bitingly cold and we were continuously under threat of attack from German aircraft and submarines. I remember passing Bear Island, the German U-boat base, and being terrified at how close it was.
I was put in charge of the mess and I could see the men were getting more and more despondent, so I decided to save up the rum rations. On Saturday evening, I told the men to put on their best uniforms. Then I served up the rum. It was a big morale booster. The officers invited POs and CPOs to regular whist drives, which also helped to keep everyone’s spirits up.
It was daylight practically all night long and the ship was encased in ice like a huge wedding cake. On the forecastle, the ice was an inch thick. We had to wear steel helmets when we were on the upper decks to protect us from falling ice.
Once, when the ship was in dock, we saw there was a huge dent in the side. A torpedo had apparently hit us but it hadn’t gone off. Because of all the noise made by the ice, we hadn’t heard the torpedo hitting us.
I weighed 12 stone when I initially went on HMS Berwick and 9 stone when I left. I saw a lot of terrible things, which I still think about today.
The people of Murmansk and Archangel in Russia were very appreciative of everything we did to get supplies to them and they built a huge monument to those of us who served on the convoys. We also received medals from the Russian Government.
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