Belfast Telegraph

Arctic convoy heroes gather for the launch of new book

By Sophie Inge

A new book recounting the tales of sailors from Northern Ireland who risked their lives to bring vital supplies to the Soviet Union during the Second World War has been launched in Belfast.

The Arctic convoys were some of the most gruelling expeditions of the war, bringing essential supplies to Soviet soldiers fighting Hitler's invading army. The expeditions resulted in the deaths of 3,000 seamen and the loss of 100 ships.

But more than four million tons of supplies were successfully delivered.

The book, Nearness Of Ice: Arctic Convoys, was collated over two years by Co Down writer Kate Newmann, who spoke to veterans, including 89-year-old John Steen from Coleraine, who spoke of his time in the Merchant Navy.

He said: "It was an adventure for me as I was only 16, leaving Coleraine to go on the missions and I couldn't even swim.

"Most of the other boys were around the same age; some returned, but others didn't.

"It's an honour to know that my story has now been told.

"It's been an amazing day, a day I will not forget for the rest of my life."

The book's was supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Its head of drama and literature Damian Smyth said: "Over and above the physical and mental endurance displayed by these men over so many years, there are startling and memorable snatches of memory, captured moments of vivid reality, which are heartbreaking,exciting and horrifying by turns.

"The Arts Council is grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to assist in this adventure."

The Duchess of Abercorn, Honorary Consul to the Russian Federation in Northern Ireland and founder of the Pushkin Trust, said: "Today was a day for the veterans and they were absolutely fantastic.

"Their stories are now immortalised in a book and I am delighted that they will now live on forever."

Ms Newmann said she was privileged to meet "such fine, dignified, intelligent men" in the course of writing her work. "I was so impressed by their remarkable stories that I felt the world deserved to know more about them," she said.

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