Secret diary reveals hell of Arctic Convoys

Arctic Convoy veteran Leonard H Thomas
Arctic Convoy veteran Leonard H Thomas
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THE daughter of a late Arctic Convoy veteran who kept a secret diary of her father’s travels to Russia during the Second World War has finally revealed his account of one of the most harrowing assignments of the conflict.

Leona Thomas, 61, described her father’s captivating tales as a mixture of “horror and humour” and has spent years transcribing his notes to create the novel Through Ice and Fire: A Russian Arctic Convoy Diary 1942.

And she hopes the book will shed light on the way convoy veterans lived.

Leonard Thomas embarked on four treacherous convoys between Murmansk and Archangel in 1942 – the latter being PQ18 followed by PQ17 – working in the engine room.

A passionate writer, Mr Thomas secretly kept a detailed diary, in code, of activities that happened every day during his travels.

After the war he moved to Edinburgh in 1949 where he married.

Leona, the only daughter of the late veteran, said: “I was a daddy’s girl and we were very close. He knew I was fascinated with his stories.”

Mr Thomas knew his daughter was intrigued by his tales, so much so that before he died in 2000 at the age of 88, he wrote her four full A4-sized diaries, complete with details about his life stories.

Written in the diaries left for Leona, her dad said: “It is 
naturally forbidden to keep diaries, but against my background of the long years of discovery, when we made great voyages in many unknown parts of the world and were encouraged to commit to paper, I felt in some way compelled to note a few things I could secrete away were I to be searched at any time.

“I was thankful to keep all these years, the actual daily scroll of some of the harrowing times I found myself in, especially the runs in the arctic waters so fraught with danger, both man-made and that of nature.”

On his return to Edinburgh in 1949, Mr Thomas joined James Howden Ltd, installing heavy turbines in electrical power stations including Longannet and Cockenzie.

Leona, a former teacher, said: “Unfortunately I don’t have the original copies of the coding he wrote in while he was travelling during the war, but I do know that he used to use initials and codes, and when he read it back he would know what it would mean.

“If he had been caught writing about his experiences at any point during the convoys, he would have been in big trouble.”

And one part of the diary may reveal the site of some hidden treasure not too far from home.

She said: “There’s a section written in great detail about a time he docked at Greenock and saw gold and silver bullion being loaded onto the ship.

“Everyone was locked away but he managed to sneak a peak through a small gap, and he’s written that he saw one dropping into the water.

“Who knows, it may still be there?”

The launch for Through Ice and Fire: A Russian Arctic Convoy Dairy 1942 will be held at Blackhall Library on April 22.