Princess Royal AnneAnna Koshechko / RG
HRH The Princess Royal Anne. Source: Anna Koshechko/RG
The daughter of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and seven British veterans have visited the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk to honor the memory of those who perished during the Arctic Convoys, delivering vital supplies and weapons to the USSR from the Allied powers during World War II.
Russia and the UK marked the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first convoy, code-named Dervish, in Arkhangelsk on Aug. 31.
British Royal Princess Anne arrived in Arkhangelsk on Aug. 30 and, during the two days of her visit, took part in the commemoration events, visited the British cemetery and presented a British state award to the North Sea Museum.
Princess Anne arrived at the anniversary events with her husband Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence. The distinguished guests were met at the airport by Arkhangelsk Region governor Igor Orlov and his wife, British Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow and British Consul General in St. Petersburg Keith Allan.
On the following day, Princess Anne visited Arkhangelsk's historic site – Solombala. This is where the Arctic Convoy ships moored 75 years ago. Princess Anne paid special attention to the Church of England building. Believed to be built in 1853, today it is a subject for researchers. The oak logs used for its walls were brought in by its builders, English merchants, from Britain.
The ceremonies were also attended by representatives of 10 diplomatic missions, but it was the veterans that the events were focused on. Seven British seamen who participated in the delivery of supplies under the Lend-Lease program during World War II came to Arkhangelsk from the UK.
When the veterans met, there were tears, hugs, and shared memories of those turbulent times. The most common phrase heard at informal meetings was: "Do you remember..."
British and Russian veterans met. / Anna Koshechko/RG
To escort Allied ships to the Arkhangelsk port during wartime was not an easy task. The Germans attacked ships from the air, land and sea. Later, historians would call it the "road of bombs." More than 3,000 sailors were killed and around 100 ships sunk during the Arctic Convoys, which lasted from 1941 to 1945.
The delegates held a commemorative ceremony near the British military memorial at the Vologda cemetery, where more than 100 sailors and soldiers from the United Kingdom were buried, and laid wreaths to the monument – a high white cross with a bronze sword as a symbol of military duty.
"I am in Arkhangelsk for the second time," Arctic Convoy veteran David B. Craig told RBTH. "The first was more than 70 years ago. And I'm very happy to be here today to participate in this ceremony. For me it was important to come. And I want to thank the residents of Arkhangelsk for preserving this memorial, for inviting us."
During the funeral march, Secretary of the HMS Belfast Association Walter Filby, who has also previously visited Arkhangelsk, lowered the flag of Belfast as a symbol of the common sorrow felt by the sailors of the two countries.
During the Second World War, the cruiser HMS Belfast participated in the protection of the convoys, delivering strategic supplies to the Soviet Union. Now, the ship is a museum, docked in London. She is considered a symbol of maritime fraternity between British and Russian servicemen involved in the Arctic Convoys.
Princess Anne, accompanied by the chairman of the Russian State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, visited the exhibition "Dervish: Caravans of Victory" at the North Sea Museum and presented a UK state award – the Arctic Star Medal – to the museum.
It has been awarded since 2012 for service in the Arctic Convoy campaigns in 1941-1945 to British and Commonwealth veterans.
"The medal recognizes the particular sacrifices of those soldiers, sailors and airmen, who worked in the challenging environment north of the Arctic Circle," said Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Great Britain to the Russian Federation Laurie Bristow. "This medal is our symbol of the courage of our Arctic Convoy veterans."
HRH The Princess Royal Anne (C), Laurie Bristow (left from the Princess). Source: Anna Koshechko/RG
Naryshkin handed over to Princess Anne copies of archival documents of her great-grandfather, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich Romanov, a son of Russian Emperor Nicholas I.
The Grand Duke led the State Council, served as naval minister and was actively engaged in the modernization of the Russian Navy.
"This document is part of the draft navy regulations that your great-grandfather worked on, with drawings in the margins done by his hand," Naryshkin said. "I am pleased to hand over the archives as a sign of respect for your family and the long-standing relationship between our two countries."
As British newspapre The Daily Telegraph notes, the Royal Family hopes to use this visit to improve relations between London and Moscow. The Crown found the occasion appropriate to recall the long-standing historical ties between the UK and Russia, as well as to express hope for further cooperation between the two countries.
The 50th anniversary of Operation Dervish was widely celebrated in Russia in 1991. Arkhangelsk welcomed more than 300 Arctic Convoy veterans from the USSR, UK, the U.S. and Canada.
A convoy exercise, Operation Dervish '91, was held in the Barents Sea, with the involvement of Soviet ships and the British Royal Navy. At the 2016 commemoration, the number of veterans was 10 times fewer: The ceremony was attended by 35 Russian, seven British and two American sailors.
Interestingly, Princess Anne has visited Russia, and earlier – the USSR, more frequently than anyone else of the Royal Family. The first time was an unofficial visit in 1973, and then she later at different times met with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and – in 2014 – represented the British Olympic Association at the Olympic Games in Sochi.
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