The Club is made up of an extraordinarily diverse group of people due to its open membership policy. Over the next few months we hope to share some of their stories. This month, we had a chat with Lt Cdr Dairmid Gunn OBE RN Rtd who joined the Club in 2002. Dairmid started on a naval career as his father thought it a good idea and he found himself at Dartmouth. This led to many happy years in the Royal Navy. He also worked at the British embassy in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, where he was tasked with briefing the Ambassador and acquiring intelligence. He worked in Moscow for 3 years and has kept up his connections with Russia since then.
Dairmid, you have retired from an extremely busy working life, but this seems to have carried on into retirement! We hear you’re writing a book on the Arctic Convoys. How did that come about?
I was asked to write the book by the Russian Consul General Andrei Pritsepov, whom I have known since his appointment in Scotland. As well as having had a long and productive relationship with the Russian Consulate in Scotland, I think he felt my other qualification for the job was my position as vice President of the Scottish-Russian forum, a charitable organisation which promotes a mutual understanding between Scotland & Russia. I am also a fluent Russian speaker.The convoys were sent from the UK, Iceland and the USA to supply the Russians with military equipment, from fighters to tanks, and the sailings had to be carried out during the Winter months despite appalling weather conditions. This was because the route was so northerly, that during the summer months when it was light 24 hours a day, there was too great a chance that the convoys would be spotted by the Germans. Conditions were among the worst faced by any Allied sailors. As well as the Germans, they faced extreme cold, gales and pack ice. The loss rate for ships was higher than any other Allied convoy route. For the book I interviewed 30 veterans of the convoys. The book is called ‘Cold Seas – Warm Friendships’, and it was launched on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.
You were also in the Diplomatic Service, where did you serve?
While training at Dartmouth, I learnt Russian, a language that I have been in love with ever since. Officers were taught languages with a view to sending them overseas to work in UK Embassies around the world. So although my main career has been as a trained officer in the Royal Navy, I have also been in the diplomatic service. I worked at the British Embassy in Moscow as a naval attaché, at the height of the Cold War, which was an extremely interesting time to be there, and where I was tasked with briefing the Ambassador and acquiring intelligence. This position lasted for 3 years and since that time I have continued my love affair with Russia. It was during this time that I met Fitzroy MacLean, a Scottish soldier, politician, diplomat and author, remembered for a great adventurous spirit which lead many to believe Maclean was the inspiration for Bond – but that is another story!
We’ll ask you another time! What do you enjoy most about being a member of the Club?
Living alone as I do, the Club to me is marvellous as a total home from home. I meet colleagues for informal meetings, I entertain friends for lunch and I can sit and relax while reading the papers. There is an excellent atmosphere throughout the Club, and with the military ambience the overall effect is one of comfort and efficiency. And the staff are exceptional, always friendly and obliging. I would recommend anyone looking for a base in Edinburgh to become a member.
What would you like if you found yourself on a desert island?
I actually was shipwrecked – but not on a desert island! I was shipwrecked off Algiers in 1954 when the troop ship I was sailing on, sank, due to a boiler explosion. Because of that I arrived back in the UK in my pyjamas! But if I were abandoned on a desert island, I would like the Bible, a copy of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin – and a cat. I greatly admires cats for their independence.
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