Memories sewn up as couple mark 65 years

Mr and Mrs Lennie with the Arctic tapestry given to them for their 65th anniversary
Mr and Mrs Lennie with the Arctic tapestry given to them for their 65th anniversary

A unique tapestry depicting the Arctic Convoys of the Second World War has been gifted to one of the last surviving veterans in honour of a very special occasion.

Tom Lennie (90) who took part in the treacherous trips across the frozen seas to maintain supply links to the British Allies on the Eastern Front, recently celebrated his 65th wedding anniversary.

And he and his wife Nancy, also 90, were given the artwork by their three sons to mark the occasion.

The tapestry, crafted by Dumfries & Galloway artist Katie Russell, was one of 10 specially commissioned pieces made for the ‘Arctic Convoys – Men and Ice’ exhibition that featured Mr Lennie’s memories of his time at sea.

The event raised nearly £2500 for Legion Scotland (Royal British Legion Scotland), the largest ex-service membership charity in Scotland, who co-hosted the exhibition which brought 6000 visitors to St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Mr Lennie, from Newburgh, received the Arctic Medal for his contribution.

He said: “We were pleasantly surprised to be given the tapestry. It’s a very unique gift. I remember thinking to myself how unusual and lovely they were when I visited the exhibition.

“Being part of an event like that really brought back a lot of memories, especially when I saw a photo of myself in my Russian Convoy Club uniform and a picture of my ship, the HMS Red Mill.

“The Arctic journeys were very cruel, stormy and cold – we had to sleep in our uniforms to keep ourselves warm at night - but we had an important job to do so you just had to get on with it.”

Mr Lennie was just 18 years old when he joined the Royal Navy to fulfil his dream of seeing the world, while his three brothers joined The Black Watch – the regiment to which their father had belonged.

One of his lasting memories of his time at sea was when the HMS Red Mill was torpedoed on its way to Russia. The other was when they arrived in Nagasaki after the Atom Bomb had been dropped.

He said: “It was first thing in the morning and I’d just come off watch when two torpedoes hit the stern of the ship and we started to go down. We were fortunate as one of the crew below noticed the water pouring in and was able to shut the water tight doors. There were planes flying overhead trying to bomb the submarine from above. It was terrible. I lost a lot of mates that day.

“Our ship was also the first to dock in Nagasaki after the bomb. Everything was flattened and we were supposed to pick up Prisoners of War, but another ship ended up taken them to Australia. I remember being told that under no circumstance were we to feed them because of the effect it would have on their starved bodies. I also remember being in Tokyo when the war treaty was signed.

“During my five years in the Royal Navy there were a lot of ups and downs. I was fortunate to see America, Canada, Australia, Singapore … but I also saw so many of my friends die.

“I’m now one of only a handful of Arctic veterans left who can tell our story, and that is why the exhibition was so important. People need to remember what went before them and the sacrifices people made for their country. We must never forget.”

For more information about Legion Scotland, visit www.legionscotland.org.uk