Arctic convoy veteran and community activist;
Born: February 22, 1926; Died: February 16, 2013.
Moir Mitchell Garrett, who has died aged 86, was a hero to many: he was holder of the Arctic Emblem awarded to veterans of the Second World War convoy to Russia – described by Churchill as the worst journey in the world – and in 2007 was awarded the MBE for services to the community of Milngavie and the surrounding districts.
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Many years before the MBE, he was also voted Local Hero by the people of Milngavie in a nationwide competition. Founder of the local community education centre and advisor on the old folks welfare committee, he also visited the sick in hospital and in their homes, and organised events such as the Christmas panto, which he funded from intensive door-to-door collections and the sale of old newspapers. That effort alone raised £70,000 for the community before councils introduced recycling bins.
Those who knew Moir Garrett say that, aside from these good deeds known to the public, he would also give his time behind the scenes, helping people in need without any fuss and seeking no recognition.
He was born in Newton Stewart to William and Bessie; one of six children, he had three brothers and two sisters. He studied at Glasgow Nautical College and James Watt College in Greenock and was only in his late teens when he joined the Neritina, attached to the RA65 convoy, as a radio officer.
The mission of the Neritina was to take tanks to the Eastern Front and relief supplies to the Russian people and it was a perilous journey through the Bering Sea, navigating polar ice caps to Murmansk. On the 2500-mile journey, the ships and equipment would often freeze in the bleak Arctic conditions; some would capsize with the weight of the ice on the decks.
But he and the Neritina crew had more to brave than the sub-zero temperatures and polar waves. They were under constant attacks from the air – and the target of U-boats and German naval surface vessels.
The Russian Government wanted to give the crew medals when they eventually reached their destination, but since only the Queen can honour British servicemen, instead when they got to shore, dancers, opera singers and a host of other entertainers were waiting to greet them and they were given gifts of cash to spend in port.
Even at that young age his compassionate side was aroused. Following the Arctic Medal award, he recalled that while he and fellow crewmen were being given the hero treatment, nearby he could see political prisoners set to ugly and gruesome tasks and he said he wanted to share with them what he had been given, but didn't dare – he wasn't even allowed to speak to them.
When talking of that time, it was not just his compassion that shone through, but his sense of humour too. Officers and crew had been instructed that if the ship was hit by a torpedo or bombed, no-one was to go into the water as they would freeze to death in a minute. That amused the men, he said, as the ship was carrying thousands of tons of highly explosive petroleum and they all knew if they were struck they would have been blown to smithereens. Mercifully they weren't and of that episode in his life he said he counted himself privileged to have been able to serve and survive.
He continued to serve in the Navy after the war, travelling to many countries including America, Australia and India until bowel cancer caused his retirement when he was 56. Following successful treatment, it was in his nature to continue to serve – and he chose to do so in the community of Milngavie which he grew to love, and the people grew to love him.
He never married but enjoyed the love and friendship of his partner of more than 20 years, Jean Maughan, who shared his love of classical music. His cousin Lady Eileen Carey was also his great friend as was her husband George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Jean was by his side when he died but sadly Eileen and George were abroad.
His passing was peaceful and he bore with great dignity the final throes of the cancer to which he ultimately succumbed. Despite the time he dedicated to the sick, at his own end he gave Jean strict instructions to tell no-one that his time was so close. Thinking of others to the end he said people had better things to do than sit by his bedside. He did, however, instruct Jean , after his passing, to thank his family, friends and colleagues for their friendship and comradeship over the years.
His body, as was his wish, has been donated to Glasgow University for medical research.
His is survived by his nephews Robert and Bruce and nieces Roberta, Sheila, Gala and Sylvia.