History & Learning

Convoys Remembered

Alex Gray

Royal Navy

Information provided by Cathie Clarke.

My Dad, Alex Gray served on HMS Ulster Queen from 25 July 1941 – 8 March 1943 as a signalman TO, and then Leading signalman. He was on PQ15 (return QP12) and PQ18 (return QP15).

Below are a couple of extracts from interviews he did with my nephews and nieces when they were studying WW2.

I went on two trips on in May 1942 to Murmansk when we had 24 hours daylight but the air attacks were not too severe – we lost 3 ships and the Ulster Queen claimed to have shot down 4 aircraft and the second trip in September 1942 to Archangel. This was a really big convoy with terrific Naval escort and only sailed because of threats from Russia. The powers that be were loath to try another home-bound convoy so we remained in the Divina ports until November when the convoy sailed but the weather was so cold that the ships got scattered and we made for Iceland on our own.

We would have been useless anyway as all our guns had frozen solid and the main fear, because of the heavy ice on the superstructure and lack of ballast from the water and fuel lines, was that we would turn turtle.

Where did you stay in Archangel?

On the boat mainly but we were allowed into Archangel for a bit.

What were the conditions like in Russia?

They were pretty good for us but for the Russians they were terrible. There were restaurants around the city where we were allowed but the Russian’s were not because we were guests.

Did you get enough to eat?

Rations were pretty bad but we survived. There used to be a person in the hold who gave you your rations and there was lots of baked beans and caviar.

When the guns were frozen over how did they remove it?

They used to get a big chisel and chip it off! The guns were not in a fit shape to fire through so we were lucky to be far away from the airfields.

How many clothes did you wear?

Everything I’d got and more! I put on big duffle coats.

What was your job when you were under attack?

I took the signals from the other ships.

Click to expand photos