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Surviving the Arctic Convoys

...the Wartime Memoir of Leading Seaman Charlie Erswell, from Pen & Sword

Title: Surviving the Arctic Convoys
Author: John R McKay
Publisher: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978-1-39901-303-1

In this new book author John McKay records the personal story of Leading Seaman Charlie Erswell, made possible by a series of meetings and contact between the two of them over a period of 2019/20. It does also include a section of Charlies own photos, which bring that extra bit of life to some of the stories in the text. All contained in a 181-page hardback.
It all starts with an Introduction where the author explains how he met Charlie, along with his wife, and got to record his story to give us an insight to what it felt like to serve on a Royal Navy warship during WW2, and in particular when taking part in escorting the convoys of merchantmen as they made their way through the freezing cold, and some very rough weather, facing dangers not only from the weather, but also the visible threat of Luftwaffe bombs and torpedoes, plus the less visible enemy presented by U-boats. Charlies story starts when he was very young and wanted to join the Navy, despite his family having a long army tradition, and his father really wanting him to follow that tradition. After various other twists and turns in his life, he finally got his wish, and found himself serving in a gun turret on a destroyer, HMS Milne. He was among the escort for PQ18, the one which followed the ill-fated PG17, and for which there were plenty of nerves that it shouldn't share the same fate. Other convoys followed and he experienced the tension of action stations, pumping shells aloft against Luftwaffe bombers, risking life and limb clearing ice from the upper-works of the ship to ensure and witnessing death at close hand as ships were sent to the bottom and crewmen could not be saved. He went on to briefly go to the Mediterranean, when he was part of the escort for the landings of Operation Torch, before returning to the UK for more Russian convoy work. After a change of ship, there were the Normandy landings before going back yet again to Northern waters. After the war he joined the Merchant Navy, and this time spent time in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean before he finally left to find employment on shore.
A series of fantastic experiences, especially from his work on those Russian convoys, but no wonder veterans who survived had witnessed events that would clearly remain with him for a lifetime, and so helpful that his story has been recorded for the rest of us to learn how it felt to live through those incredible times. Very happy to recommend this one.
Thanks to Pen & Sword for the review copy.


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