James Pitts and Charles Downs were invited to Arkhangelsk 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”.
The participation of British veterans (who are being accompanied by two of their friends) in Arkhangelsk’s celebrations reminds us 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.
Take the Olympics, for instance. As consecutive hosts of the Olympic Games in London 2012 and Sochi 2014, the UK and Russia have been 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.