“I am no hero, I just did what I had to.” This was the very humble admission of Second World War veteran James Docherty.

At the age of just 18 he joined the Royal Navy and found himself making the perilous Russian convoy trips to take vital supplies to Soviet ports.

While he might not consider himself to be a hero, there are generations who might disagree.

Mr Docherty had already seen his brother David join the army in 1940 and his father George, a veteran of the First World War who had re-enlisted, when it was his time to sign up.

But the teenager knew it would be hard for their mum Jane two go through months and years of separation from her sons. She knew only too well the personal suffering of war after losing three brothers in the 1914 to 18 conflict.

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Mr Docherty is one of several veterans that one of the oldest armed forces charities is trying to reach out to. Soldiers', Sailors' & Airmen's Families Association (SSAFA) is appealing for veterans or families to come forward. The charity wants to offer them a hamper gift in the run up to the 75th anniversary of Victory in Japan Day on August 15 when the conflict in the Far East finally came to an end.


Veteran James Docherty at home in Glasgow served on the Arctic Convoys

Brought up in the Gorbals, highly decorated Mr Docherty thought it was his destiny to follow his father and brother into the army, but events took a different turn.

“I went to enlist in the army and went along for a medical,” said Mr Docherty. “I was told to report to HMS Ganges. I knew that didn’t sound like an army barracks. It turned out to be a training ship in Ipswich. I couldn’t even swim so I thought they might change their mind, but it didn’t put them off.

“Learning to swim involved being told to jump in and swim to the other end. I remember being in the water and there were these large poles at the side and I thought that was to help me out. Instead they were used to push me back in.”

After a few weeks of training, Mr Docherty was sent to Portsmouth to join destroyer HMS Obedient which he was on board from 1943 to late 1946. He played his part in the Arctic convoys which carried food and military equipment across treacherous seas to support the eastern front over four years from 1941.

Thousands of Scots sailed from Loch Ewe in Wester Ross and the River Clyde. They ended up at the ports of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk.

“When I arrived at the ship I had never seen anything like it in my life," he said. "It turned out we were heading for Russia. We were given warm clothing, heavy socks and sea boots. I was still concerned about my swimming, but was told if you ended up in the water you wouldn’t have much longer than two minutes.

“After a while I got used to life on board and liked sleeping in a hammock. We had to take turns making the meals for the mess and everything came out of a tin. We would travel in darkness and I think it was a case of expect the worst and hope for the best.”

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Although he was parted from his family, Mr Docherty felt for his shipmates who had left wives and children behind.

He added: “I was a young, single lad at the time, but I really felt for some of the crew. There was some who would write home as much as they could and it must have been awful for them.

“I did the Russian route four times in the end. One day we had docked and I was cleaning up and looked out to throw the water away. I peered out and on the next ship was a face I recognised – it was someone who lived two streets away from me in the Gorbals.”


James Docherty was joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel

In what later transpired to be the D Day landings in 1944, Mr Docherty found his ship heading near to Portsmouth and eventually set sale for Normandy to transport troops to Gold Beach, codename for the centre beach of the invasion area.

When news filtered through in 1945 that war was over, Mr Docherty was on board his ship.

“I remember Sir Winston Churchill’s voice coming over the tannoy saying that war would end from midnight that night. We got an extra tot of rum and then it was back to work.”

Last year Mr Docherty, 95, had the chance to return to northern France. He made the journey for D Day commemorations with his son Joe, 68. Sadly his son David died earlier this year at the age of 70.

“I was a wonderful experience and they treated us so well. I was told to go to an office and there I was given 300euros as a thank you,” Mr Docherty added.

“At one point there was a seat free next to me and I was asked if a lady could sit down. It turned out to be German Chancellor Angela Merkel who chatted to me. She asked me if I had been to Germany before and I said yes – but I didn’t let on about what I did then.

“We had been due to go to Russia in May as they had wanted to thank us for our involvement, but that had to be postponed due to coronavirus.”

It was on board the ship that Mr Docherty first became a Herald reader.

He added: “There was a chap on the ship and he had The Herald, or Glasgow Herald as it was known then, sent to him. I used to look over his shoulder to read it and try to do the crossword. So when I was demobbed I got into the habit of buying and I still have a go at the big crossword.”

Mr Docherty is among a small group of veterans in the west coast that charity SSAFA wants to say thank you to with a hamper gift.

It wants to make personal contact with veterans living in the Greater Glasgow area.

Mike Hanratty, Glasgow branch fundraiser, said: "We believe there are around 25 veterans in the area and we are appealing for those veterans to come forward, either directly or through contact by neighbour, relative or friend.

"We have a number of people on board already. These include Walkers (of Aberlour), Shortbread, suppliers of the food hampers and PK Foods, of Cambuslang Asian Food manufacturers who have generously supported SSAFA Glasgow for the past several years and who are providing the delivery logistics, in a joint branded vehicle for the event.”

If you are a veteran or know a veteran, contact SSAFA Glasgow on: 0141 613 3002 or by email glasgow@ssafa.org.uk including name, address and service.