The service of a brave Lewisman who led a Russian Convoy during World War II has finally been marked with the award of the prestigious Arctic Star Medal.
The late Captain Murdo Macleod, originally from Barvas, was Commodore of a Convoy of 39 ships (PQ18) which left Loch Ewe in February 1942. As Captain of the Empire Snow, he was involved in the voyage to Russia which, despite relentless attack, successfully brought supplies to the Allies.
His proud family had tried in vain to secure the medal posthumously for Captain Macleod, who was lost at sea in 1944, but were refused as no records were identified by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil wrote to the MoD last year and was very pleased to receive a letter confirming Captain Macleod’s eligibility and apologising for previously being unable to locate the records.
Mr MacNeil said: “It was a great honour to help to secure this medal for the Macleod family which marks the service of Captain Murdo Macleod on the Arctic Convoys in 1942, for which he also received the posthumous award of Distinguished Service Cross.
“He was a dedicated and courageous mariner who had a long distinguished career in the Merchant Navy. The marking of his service in the Arctic Convoys by the award of this Medal means a lot to his family and I was delighted to be able to assist them.”
Mrs Margaret Macleod from Carloway, who is Captain Macleod’s niece, received the medal on his behalf. She said: “I remember my Uncle Murdo very well and words cannot express how proud I am about receiving this award on his behalf.”
Fiona Whiteford, Captain Macleod’s grand-niece, who contacted Mr MacNeil about the family’s quest to receive the award said: “We are delighted to receive this medal on behalf of my great uncle Murdo who was a very brave man and we would like to thank Angus and his staff for all their help with this matter.”
Mr John Macleod, his grand nephew said: ‘My interest in Captain MacLeod was sparked by a chance meeting with George Milne, chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Project in Wester Ross.
“Captain MacLeod played a major role in the passage of PQ18 from Loch Ewe to Archangel in Russia. His ship was at the head of the third column of the convoy and not only did he and his crew have to repel repeated attacks from German forces but also horrendous weather conditions.”
He added: “In a letter to his niece, Catherine, dated 11th October 1943, he wrote of his pride at the award of the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in the convoy. He regarded Winston Churchill as “the greatest of all men” but with typical modesty said that everyone concerned with PQ18 deserved a medal.
“Although he went down with his ship the SS Fort Buckingham on the 20th January 1944 he is still remembered fondly by Deck Officer Apprentice Norman Gibson. He was one of the 46 crew members who survived 16 days on a life raft and now aged 90 has become a family friend.
“Although we regret that Captain MacLeod is not acknowledged at the Stornoway War Memorial, he is remembered at Tower Hill in London. We are also very pleased that the Barvas & Brue War Memorial Committee will commemorate his remarkable achievements by inscribing his name on their war memorial alongside other WW1 & WW2 casualties.”
Captain Macleod, originally from Barvas, left Lewis in 1909 and was a Seaman on the coasts of Australia and New Zealand and also served overseas in WW1. He kept in regular weekly contact with his family back home, particularly his brother, Donald in South Galson, Margaret’s father.
In WW2 he was Vice Commodore of Russian Convoy PQ18 in 1942. As Captain of the Empire Snow, he left Loch Ewe as part of the convoy of 39 merchant ships and a strong close escort of destroyers, an aircraft carrier, an anti-aircraft ship and smaller escort vessels. The convoy was attacked on several occasions and 10 ships were lost.
In January 1944, the SS Fort Buckingham under Macleod’s command left Bombay bound for Buenos Aires and on route was torpedoed by a German submarine. Almost half of the crew were lost including Captain Macleod – ‘the last voyage of a courageous and dedicated mariner’.
Captain Macleod’s widow, accompanied by his niece Catherine Williams (nee Macleod, Margaret’s elder sister who was a Health Visitor in Cardiff at the time) received the posthumous award of Distinguished Service Cross from George VI at Buckingham Palace for his convoy duties.
Other Medals he received include – the 1939-45 Star; the Atlantic Star; the Pacific Star; and the War Medal 1939-45.
He saw further action at the Allied Landings at Sicily and at Salerno and he was commended for services in the Indian Ocean.