Just now I am up in a cold land
And a message has arrived for us to go to sea,
That the ships are now assembled and when night comes
We have to move off with them.
This song was written by Petty Officer Murdanie Macritchie, Brenish, whilst serving during the Second War on HMS Cape Palliser escorting merchant ships on a Russian convoy, PQ-15, from Iceland to Murmansk. PQ-15 (not PQ-16, as previously thought) sailed from Iceland on 26 April 1942, reaching Kola Inlet on 5 May, after several air and U-boat attacks. In the convoy were 25 merchant ships that had arrived from various seaports in the UK, plus naval escort ships. An account from English sailor Geoff Hall aboard the Commodore ship, SS Ocean Voice on convoy PQ-16, later in May, gives detail of the run from the Clyde to Loch Ewe to Iceland and then Murmansk, and of being bombed.
To be as far away as possible from the enemy’s airfields in Norway, convoys from Iceland to Russia were routed close to the ice-edge, passing Jan Mayen Island, Bear Island and Novaya Zemlya then heading for the Kola Inlet and the port of Murmansk. Arctic convoys came under attack from aircraft, U-boats, large surface ships and light surface ships.
For the return journey, HMS Cape Palliser joined convoy QP-12 as an escort, arriving back in Iceland on 29 May. En route, one day near Bear Island, convoy PQ-16 and homeward bound convoy QP-12 were incessantly attacked by 108 waves of German aircraft. Seven vessels were lost including SS Lowther Castle, SS Empire Purcell and SS Empire Lawrence. SS Empire Purcell, on her maiden voyage, was loaded with ammunition and blew up when hit by two bombs. The Ocean Voice was also badly damaged.
Murdanie Macritchie survived the war and was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland. A translation follows the Gaelic song.
An till mi gu bràth gu Eilean mo Ghràidh
‘S don a’ bhaile a rinn mi fhàgail
Faic mi tuilleadh le mo shùilean beanntan sgire Uig
No Mealisbhal ag èirigh an àrda?
An cuir mi gu bràth mo ghuaillean ri bàt
Ga cur sios gu sàl air Mol Innis?
An cuir me tuilleadh na clèibh aig a’ Sgeir Lèith
Faic mise tuilleadh Mol Bhrèinis?
An dìrich mi tuilleadh an àrd dhan a’ bheinn
A thrusadh na caoraich a-nuas?
Am faic mi iad tuilleadh cruinn anns an fhaing
An cluinn mi tuilleadh mèilich nan uan?
Am faic me tuilleadh na mnathan a’ deaschadh biadh
‘S ghrian os mo chionn a’ deàrrsadh?
Faic me tuilleadh chlann nighean a chleachd a bhith ann
An cluinn mise tuilleadh an gàire?