To Russia with Love

One of the most evocative tartans that I’ve ever designed was that for the75th Anniversary of the first Russian Arctic Convoy to leave Scotland’s shores. To give some background, here are some brief details gleaned from Wikipedia:

The Arctic convoys of World War II were oceangoing convoys that sailed from the United Kingdom, Iceland and North America to the Soviet Union – Arkhangelsk (Archangel) and Murmansk in modern-day Russia. In all there were 78 convoys between August 1941 and May 1945 comprising about 1400 merchant ships escorted by ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and the US Navy. Eighty-five merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships were lost together with around 3,000 Royal and Merchant Navy lives.

The historic tartan was commissioned by the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Edinburgh, Andrey A Pritsepov and I was honoured and humbled to be asked to design it – especially as an ex RAF Fighter Command flyer – not during WWII I hasten to add!

From the start, I felt it inappropriate that I should design it from my own research and decided that it – at least the colours – should come from the convoy veterans themselves. I therefore contacted over a dozen of them and asked the simple question: “When I say ‘Artic Convoy’ to you, what colour immediately comes to mind?”

The answers were indeed humbling and resulted in the following design and rationale.

“With echoes of the MacLeod and MacKenzie tartans from the clanlands bordering Loch Ewe – departure point for so many of the World War II Arctic Convoys to Archangel and Murmansk – the Russian Arctic Convoy tartan encapsulates the essential colours remembered by convoy veterans. Colours of dread, death and destruction but colours too of bravery, hope and survival. White brings a multitude of memories – ice flows, wind-whipped wave-tops, snow and ice-encrusted superstructures and today the classic white berets of the surviving veterans.
Grey is for the sea and the sky, for the allied battleships and for the ever-threatening enemy U-Boats. Black is for line upon line of the Luftwaffe bombers and their devastating cargoes whilst silver, is the most chilling sight of all – the bubbles in the wake of an oncoming torpedo.
Brightening the hopes of many thousands of those Arctic mariners however, was the Red Ensign of the escorting Royal Naval vessels and red too, was in those merchantmen’s own flag – the Red Duster – and that of the Soviet Union, their final destination.

To heighten the dramatic effect, the ‘silver’ line for the torpedo bubbles only appears in the vertical pattern of the tartan, so that it’s ‘coming straight for’ the viewer!

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