Arctic convoy veteran dies just days before he would have worn his medal in public for the first time


AN ARCTIC Convoys veteran who fought to win recognition for his fellow heroes has died – days before he would have worn his medal in public for the first time.

Jock Dempster, 85, from Dunbar in East Lothian, passed away on Sunday morning after suffering a stroke.

This week he had been due to travel to Wester Ross in the Highlands for a number of events to mark Arctic Convoys Week, where he would have proudly sported the medal in public for the first time.

Jock Dempsey
Jock Dempster


Mr Dempster received his medal from Prime Minister David Cameron just two months ago, after a decades-long campaign.

He had also planned to wear the medal during the traditional remembrance commemorations in November at the Cenotaph.

Mr Dempster, who celebrated his 85th birthday last week, made two convoy trips to Murmansk, Russia in 1944 when he was only 16 and had campaigned tirelessly for veterans to receive official recognition for their sacrifices during the Arctic Convoy campaigns.

Mr Dempster had been married to wife, Maggie, for 35 years.

Mrs Dempster said that since suffering the stroke eight days ago her husband had “struggled heroically” with what was the “biggest battle he ever fought.”

He died at around 9.15am on Sunday after suffering respiratory failure.

Mrs Dempster said: “I will remember him as a remarkable man who has not lived one life, but three.

“He had three careers and was very well respected in all of them.

“He was also a good Samaritan and a good friend. He looked after me extremely well.

“He wouldn’t let the wind blow the wrong way if he could help it while I was about. He knew my thoughts before I knew them. I will miss him terribly.”

A former head of Scotland’s own Russian Arctic Convoys Club, Mr Dempster was presented with his medal by David Cameron at Downing Street in March.

After it was announced in December that  the veterans would finally be honoured with a medal, he said it “meant everything.”

While awarding the Arctic Star medals the prime minister has singled Mr Dempster in his speech saying he had helped run an “extraordinary campaign.”

Speaking in February of this year, Mr Dempster said: “I was never frightened of death, I implicitly believed in the life thereafter.

What I was scared stiff of was the fact that I was on a tanker and I knew if we got hit, it would go on fire. I dreaded the thought of being hideously burnt or losing an arm or leg.”

A Downing Street spokesman said they were sorry to hear about Mr Dempster’s death.

He  said: “We were sorry to hear about the death of Jock Dempster. He recently came into Downing Street to be presented with an Arctic Star medal by the Prime Minister, in recognition of the unique contribution he and others made protecting Britain.

“All those who served on the Arctic Convoy deserve nothing but the utmost respect and admiration from us.”

Mr Dempster set sail from Loch Ewe, in 1944 aboard the MV San Venancio as a deck hand.

After his experience in the convoys, he went on to become a fluent Russian as part of a role with the RAF, during the Cold War.


  1. I served with Jock Dempster at R.A.F. Gatow, Berlin, during the Cold War, after he had joined the first joint services Russian course, I think in 1948.
    It was immediately obvious that Jock was a very unusual and a special kind of man. Although he was a Flight Sergeant when I first met him, but promoted Warrant Officer during my term serving under him, Jock was unfailingly courteous and considerate to those of us who were junior to him.
    On his promotion, Jock presented me with his brass R.A.F. cap badge, as Warrant Officers wear the woven badge as worn by commissioned officers. He told me that I was “no a bad lad” and instructed me to “look after this laddie – there’s a lot of work gone into it. And, by the way, its your round!” I could not have had a more morale-boosting accolade than that from Jock, and I retain his badge to this day.
    I would dearly have loved to pay my last and limitless respects to Jock at his funeral, but as I am based near Penzance in Cornwall, and no doubt the funeral will take place in Dunbar or close by, I regret that I am unable to do this.
    My sincere condolences go to his lovely wife Maggie, who brightened each of our reunions like a ray of sunshine, and to all of Jock’s family and many friends, who, like me, have lost a totally unique and irreplaceable colleague and friend. His remarkable life will remain to all of us as a summit which none of us can hope to attain. I am just thankful that, despite the negligence and inefficiency of successive governments, Jock was able to receive his Arctic Star medal, for which he had fought for so long on behalf of all his white-beret shipmates, before it was too late.
    I mourn the passing of a loved and respected colleague, and a totally unmatchable friend. Jock, as far as you are concerned, it will always be ‘my round’. It was a pleasure and a privilege to know you.
    With sincere regrets and undying admiration, I shall always remain your loyal and respectful friend,

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