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Proud British veterans carry Sochi Olympic flame

British war veterans of the Arctic Convoys proudly carried the Olympic flame for Britain and Russia today.

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In sleet and snow they joined sports stars, celebrities and members of the public in the Sochi 2014 Winter Games Torch Relay. Despite their advanced years – both of them 90 years old – James Pitts and Charles Downs braved the icy onset of winter and warmed the hearts of the crowds lining the route in Arkhangelsk.

They impressed with both their enthusiasm for the job and the pace they set as they covered ground which they and thousands of compatriots first saw when they landed from war-torn UK with lifesaving supplies for Russia nearly 70 years ago.

First James and thirty minutes later Charles undertook a task which would have taxed people half their age.

They were invited to Arkhangelsk to take part in this historic buildup to the Games as a sign of the city’s ongoing gratitude for the role of the Arctic convoys.

Between 1941 and 1945, over 1,400 merchant and naval ships made 78 trips to Russia as part of the convoys. They brought more than 4 million tonnes of supplies, mainly provisions and munitions. This represented a significant contribution to the Soviet war effort.

Conditions for the sailors during the convoys were harsh. In winter they suffered extreme cold; in summer the constant daylight made the ships more vulnerable to attack from the sky. German U-boats were a threat all year round. Overall 3,000 lives were lost on what Winston Churchill described as the “Worst Journey in the World”.

Accompanied by two of their friends, the participation of the veterans is a reminder of the historic partnership between the UK and Russia. But it also demonstrates that our two countries have much in common in the modern era.

For instance, the Olympics. As consecutive hosts of the summer Games in London 2012 and the winter Games in Sochi 2014, the UK and Russia have been working closely, sharing information and experience on a range of issues.

Earlier this year a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between our two countries, providing a framework for the sharing of best practice in the efficient management of the economic, social, and cultural legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games in London and the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi.

In the field of business too there has been progress with over 60 UK companies working in Sochi for the Winter Olympics next year.

And in the sporting sphere, the UK has high hopes for its most successful winter Olympics yet with medal hopes in a range of events including snowboarding, bobsleigh and curling.

Published 1 November 2013
Last updated 2 November 2013 + show all updates
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