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Alexander 'Sandy' Manson born 1st August 1924 died 22nd August 2017

4th September 2017

Photograph of Alexander 'Sandy' Manson born 1st August 1924 died 22nd August 2017

Alexander 'Sandy' Manson, John O'Groats postmaster and Arctic Convoys veteran.
Born 01/08.1924, died 22.08.2017, both at John O'Groats, Caithness.

The sudden death of retired postmaster Alexander 'Sandy' Manson at the age of 93 in his PO House home in the well-known small community at the 'top' of Scotland, has robbed the country of one of a dwindling group of servicemen who have been more honoured by a key ally in the long fight against the evils of Nazism than by our own British Government.

For Sandy Manson served on board an RN destroyer that provided key support in 1943 and 1944 to seamen of the British Merchant Navy supplying ... against all the odds ... vital war-equipment to aid the Soviet Union in its ultimately successful, but bloody, land and air battles against the Wehrmacht armies. Those conflicts were to decisively turn the tide of WW II against the murderous, fascist clique that ruled Germany from 1933 till the Soviet 'Red Army' overran Berlin in the spring of 1945.

Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill described the hazardous Arctic Convoy missions to the Northern Russian ice-free city ports of Murmansk and Archangelsk as involving 'the most dangerous journey in the world' ... and that was an understatement.

Sailors, including Sandy, braved mountainous seas, thick fogs, pack-ice on the seas with salt-spray that froze when it broke over ships' bridges and rigging in the near-constant winter darkness. All of the while, the vessels appeared to be often 'sitting duck' targets for attacks by Luftwaffe aircraft, surface-warships and U-boats from air and sea bases in nearby Nazi-occupied Norway.

Sandy's Arctic Convoy service was as one of the 190-strong complement on the Clyde-built 362' long (110m), 1,950 tonne speedy destroyer HMS Matchless. She sailed on successive escorts to armaments-carrying merchant vessels, the convoys often assembled at Loch Ewe or Scapa Flow in Scotland, but on occasions linking up with ships from America near Reykjavík, Iceland. Here was practical proof of the English-speaking allies positive support for the Soviet Union's Red Army soldiers in their gallant fight against the invading evil fascist tyranny.

Sandy, whose father Hugh had come back from Canada to serve in the trenches of the Western Front in the Great War ... and where his uncle William had been killed as a young man in 1916 ... took dad's advice that was freely given to a group of local young men. He signed up in 1941 at aged 17 for service in the Royal Navy. His father had said that, if the worst came to the worst, at least 'you'll die a clean death' rather than enduring prolonged suffering in the blood-splattered mud-clogged, shell-pocked Flanders fields, where his uncle had succumbed.

After initial training, teenage seaman Manson was posted to almost-new HMS Matchless and served on board escorting Arctic convoys till late 1944, interrupted by mission involving shielding the merchantmen relieving the besieged Malta off where she was damaged by an exploding mine. The Stephens of Linthouse-built vessel survived 265 air-raids while being patched up and sailed in darkness for Gibraltar disguised as an Italian warship.

In 2012, the Russian Federation applied to the British Government for consent to bestow the prestigious Usakov Medal ... named after 18th C. Admiral Fyodor Ushakov ... to honour 'the courage and personal bravery of sailors' in WWII who had served in the convoys bringing supplies to the Eastern Front.

Initially this was refused, but it prompted a re-think on the long campaign by The Arctic Convoy Veterans Association for official recognition of their role by the British Government.

In late 2012 HM The Queen approved the design for the Arctic Star medals after then Prime Minister David Cameron decided to belatedly award the decoration, which Sandy received in early 2013.

In late 2014 Sandy was one of a small group of Arctic Convoy veterans presented with the Ushakov medal by Russia's consul General in Scotland Mr Andrei Ptitsepov at a ceremony in Inverness Town House.

After schooling at (now-closed) John O'Groats Primary and Wick High, Sandy did some joinery training and was able to make and fit doors and windows prior to his RN volunteering.

His War ended in the Far East where he was one of the first group of RN sailors ashore in Tokyo, Japan, after that country's surrender, before being demobbed in Hong Kong.

In the immediate Post War era Sandy worked first in Hall Russell's Aberdeen shipyard and then on constructing the hydro-electric power stations in the Highlands ... a vast public-works programme initiated by Rt. Hon. Tom Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland in the Wartime coalition Government, who became the first chairman of the public-sector North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board.

Evangelical Minister the Rev. John MacPhee ... who retired to his native Wick, after a lifetime's pastoral work in the United States, Australia and Belize ... told the packed 400-strong group of mourners at Sandy's funeral service in historic Canisbay Kirk that Sandy had started doing light jobs in the Post Office from the age of eight.

His family had a long link with the Post Office. His grandfather George Manson, who ran a 'needle to an anchor' general merchants business had established the Duncansby PO in 1892 and was a noted Far North tourism pioneer, publishing local view postcards and stocking small souvenir bone-china items that could be carried home in the panniers of cycling visitors.

In 1909, he received consent to change the name of the 300-strong community addresses to John O'Groats and with it the renamed Post Office.

His postmaster father Hugh died in 1942, but his widow Isabella continued to run the John O'Groats PO till 1963.

A new PO building was erected in 1961 ... largely under Sandy's direction ... alongside the main Wick road, then named the A9, with Sandy becoming Postmaster on his mother's retirement in 1963, while also running its adjoining 'convenience shop' with the help of his young wife Nellie (nee MacGregor), whom he had wed in 1958.

At that time there were ten post offices in Scotland's two most northerly rural parishes of Canisbay and Dunnet and well as several small 'shoppies' and travelling grocery vans visiting local croft and farm-houses. Now John O'Groats is the sole remaining one and the busy establishment ... it includes a fuel filling station ... is run by Sandy's daughter, widow Mrs Fiona Harper. Many visitors want the 'John O'Groats' post-mark on their cards, letters etc. and this contributes to its trade.

Sandy was one of a family of six; his father did not return to Canada after 1919 remaining 'home' to help with the business for which his Great War victim brother Willie had been trained. His father's poem 'A Corner of the Northland' was read out at the service.

Sandy himself leaves a family of six as well as his widow Nellie; Fiona, Lorna, Hugh, Susan , Sandra and Alex. He leaves twelve grandchildren and was great-grandfather to eleven youngsters.

The Rev. Mr MacPhee told the funeral congregation that he had known Sandy for over 50 years since he had started worshipping at the Canisbay Evangelical Church, which Mr MacPhee stated is known as the 'tin tabernacle', because the building was originally of pre-fabricated corrugated steel construction.

He was assisted at the service by the Rev Lyall Rennie, the Kirk minister for Canisbay and several adjoining parishes.

Sandy was a keen amateur local historian and he found himself frequently answering 'roots' queries from persons whose ancestors had emigrated from the Far North.

Bill Mowat

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