The veterans of the North East of England branch of the Russian Convoy Club held a belated Christmas knees-up at South Shields Seamen’s Mission, as the venue had been closed during December.  It was a cheerful (as always) but poignant occasion, as the branch has decided to disband – there are too few men left attending regular meetings to keep it going.

It was well organised by old salt, Bob Roberston and his wife of 67 years, Audrey.  There was a turn out of 14 comrades and just as many wives, widows and family members – including my brother Torquil and myself – to enjoy the delicious three course lunch.  Wine, beer and tots of rum were flowing – “Gulpers not sippers!” as my neighbour toasted cheerily.

Our dad, Norman MacLeod, who was on 5 convoys (on The Marne) across the Arctic to Murmansk and Archangel to supply the Soviets during the Second World War, was a regular attender at the Christmas bashes, enjoying the convivial company and the sing-song of old hits.  He loved his time at sea – he was in his early twenties and it was a huge adventure – and he made light of the constant dangers.  He would tell with delight that the only time he was injured during the war was in a bar brawl in Wallsend coming to the defence of some marines against Polish sailors – he ended up in the RVI with stitches in his head.  Still, he must have been impressed with the Geordies, because Scottish Norman returned in 1950 and settled in Durham as a teacher.

Dad’s roll call of action included the evacuation of Crete, the relief of Malta, the Dieppe raids and the North Africa landings.  But in later life it was the lads on the Russian convoys that he met up with again in the North East of England and enjoyed many a reminisce over many a tot.

The North East group plan a final get-together in November – before that particular branch ‘passes over the bar’ – I hope I can be there to raise a glass on Dad’s behalf for a last gulpers.

[You can read more stories about Norman in my childhood memoir, Beatles & Chiefs hhtp://]

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