The Free French in Scotland – and the Americans – and the Worst Journey in the World

 Ensign of the Free French Naval Forces

Not a lot of people know this…. part of  the Free French Fleet established by General de Gaulle was based in the Clyde during World War II.  At the most, 1500 French sailors were quartered in the port of  Greenock, and were given 6 corvettes by the British Navy. The French lost two corvettes, two destroyers and one submarine in the Battle of the Atlantic, all of which had been based in the Clyde. The fleet also lost the Maillé Brézé in an accident in the Clyde. Here is a lovely piece including contemporary newspaper accounts and photographs, as well as oral history memories from local people who remembered the war.

File:Free French Memorial, Lyle Hill - - 417332.jpg

Free French Memorial, Greenock, Scotland

Here is a clip from Pathe News in 1946 of the Free French Memorial being unveiled, complete with priest… and his aspergillum…and one of de Gaulle inspecting a battleship and a submarine.

On the Scottish island of Islay (where the Scotch comes from…), there is the American Monument, erected in tribute to the men of the Tuscania and the Otranto, lost carrying American and British troops  to Europe in 1918.

And finally, often forgotten are the men of the Merchant Navy, and those other Allied countries who braved the Arctic passages carrying supplies to the Soviet Union in World War Two, as well as the Persian Corridor and the Pacific Route. In a victory for justice, the Arctic Star has now been approved – a medal for those men who sailed in the ‘worst journey in the world’ as Churchill put it. In the Argyll News today, the story runs:“this year, for the first time in the UK, those who served in the dread Arctic Convoys, were wearing the Arctic Star medal in the parade for the first time. It was awarded earlier this year, 70 years late….There was one bright note in this – Jock Dempster had not only lived to see the award of the Arctic Star medal, he had actually already been presented with his own, in a special ceremony for a few at Number 10 Downing Street and by Prime Minister David Cameron. There is a ritual completeness here to the life of this Russian-speaking veteran who was little more than a stripling on the terrifying convoy to Murmansk, open to attack below, on and above the turbulent surface of this sea and temperatures that froze the breath in your throat.”

But the story did not begin there:  7,759,090 tons of British merchant shipping was lost to German U-Boats in the First World War and about 14,661 merchant seafarers lost their lives.


From HMS Sheffield, escorting a convoy to the Soviet Union, World War Two.

Memorial image rights here. Flag image rights here.

This entry was posted in History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s