Friday, May 12, 2006

Soviet Victory Day in London

Soviet Victory Day

THE PEOPLES of the former Soviet Union still celebrate 9th May as Victory Day, the day that the Nazis surrendered in 1945. And in south London, at the Soviet War Memorial in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, representatives of the former Soviet republics and war veterans gathered to remember the 27 million Soviet citizens who died in the war to defeat Nazism. There were also a number of local dignitaries and veterans’ organisations represented. The distinctive white berets of the Russian Convoy Club were, as ever, present in good numbers.
After brief speeches from Philip Matthews, who chairs the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund, from Tom Watson, the newly appointed Minister for Veterans on behalf of the Government and from HE Yuri Fedotov, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation.
Then followed a wreath laying ceremony, with flowers laid by the ambassadors of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Representatives of the Australian and United States embassies also laid wreaths, as did Bob Wareing MP, a veteran representative of London Region Ucatt, Keith Bell of the Russian Convoy Club and Jean Turner of the Society for Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies.
Also present were Squadron Leader FA Forbes and FV Bashford of the RAF in Russia Association.
After the ceremony, inside the museum’s cinema, Air Chief Marshall Sir John Cheshire presented a film, Hurricanes over Russia, which related a little-known piece of RAF history – the short but significant and successful existence of No 151 Wing.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941, Stalin’s call to Churchill for assistance was answered. Churchill replied positively, saying the British government was considering basing some British fighter squadrons in Murmansk.
In August 1941 the first Arctic Convoy carried 550 RAF men with Hurricane fighter aircraft on board in crates. Other Hurricanes were flown directly from warships to an airfield near Murmansk.
When all the planes had been assembled and gathered they comprised 151 Wing, which was in action against the Luftwaffe and engaged in training Russian pilots to fly Hurricanes, so that they could make the best use of the thousands of Hurricanes that would eventually be delivered as part of British aid to the Soviet war effort.