IT was one of the Second World War’s most daring missions.

And, almost 80 years later, the memories remain vivid for Roy Elwood.

He was among the brave British sailors who risked their own lives to rescue a community of terrified Norwegian islanders from under the noses of the Nazis.

The operation took place in February 1945, with more than 500 evacuees transported by boat to Greenock before moving on to a specially-constructed refugee camp in Neilston.

They remained there until September that year, when they were able to return to their homes on Soraya Island following the end of the war and the defeat of Hitler.

Roy, now aged 96, served on board the destroyer HMS Zambesi, which took many of the Norwegians to safety.

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He risked his life on the Arctic Convoys, which Prime Minister Winston Churchill would later describe as “the worst journey in the world.”

Under constant threat of attack from German aircraft and U-boats, as well as having to cope with horrendous weather conditions, the convoys travelled treacherous routes to supply the Soviet Union – one of Britain’s key allies.

This week, as he attended a civic reception as a guest of the Neilston War Memorial Association, Roy recalled the rescue as if it was yesterday.

The former Able Seaman told the Barrhead News: “It was a very dangerous operation, carried out in the space of 24 hours with the help of the Norwegian forces.

“We were constantly under the threat of enemy fire, be it from aircraft or U-boat.

“The weather was atrocious, with hurricane force winds, and there was a risk of discovery from the Nazis at any time.

“I remember that, when we took the Norwegians on board, the deck was packed with women, children and elderly men and they were in a very poor condition, having had to endure a terrible time.

“They were starving but we were able to provide them with food, chocolate and cigarettes. They were glad to see us and we were glad to help them.”

The German forces had adopted a ‘scorched earth’ policy in Norway, in which homes, shops, churches, schools and bridges and telegraph poles were destroyed to ensure nothing of use was left for the advancing Soviet and Allied armies.

In total, more than 50,000 Norwegians were forced from their homes and evacuated.

Some headed into the countryside to live in caves or makeshift cabins, while others sought shelter in upturned boats.

Families endured months of horrific conditions before being rescued by Roy and his crewmates.

Although most returned home, around 20 Norwegians remained in Neilston, found work and raised families there.

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Roy, originally from Manchester, joined the Royal Navy in 1943, at the age of 18, and saw almost two years’ continuous service in the convoys until the end of the war.

Now living near Newcastle, he was demobbed in 1947 and became a probation worker before training as a teacher.

In recent years, Roy – who is widowed and has a son Rod, 59 – has regularly met up with fellow survivors from Arctic Convoy duties at reunions at Loch Ewe, in Wester Ross, where many of the ships sailed from.

He estimates there are around 40 veterans still alive.

HMS Zambesi was one of three ships ordered to carry evacuees from Soroya to Murmansk, in Russia, for safe passage to Scotland.

The rescue operation was not without tragedy.

One of the ships which accompanied the refugees was American vessel the SS Henry Bacon.

After leaving Russian waters, it suffered engine trouble and was subsequently attacked by 23 Luftwaffe bombers as it struggled to catch up with the rest of the convoy.

The boat was lost and many of the crew sacrificed their lives to save the Scotland-bound Norwegians.

It was the last Allied ship sunk by the Germans during the war.

By the time the refugees arrived in Neilston, a camp of Nissen huts had been erected on what is now the Kingston Estate. It would be their home for the next seven months.

Roy, who was awarded the Freedom of Soraya earlier this year, said: “I have kept in touch with Dick Burbine – an American we picked up from the Bacon who almost froze to death.

“He was in the water for three hours. Every February, he still drinks a toast to the Zambesi and his crew members who lost their lives.”

During his pilgrimage to Neilston on Monday, Roy visited a commemorative garden where 27 trees have been planted to represent the lives lost on the Henry Bacon.

Today, all that remains of the camp’s 50 buildings is an old hut in the Kingston playing fields.

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Roy, who previously received both the Norwegian Commemoration Medal and the Medal of Ushakov, awarded by Russia to veterans of the Arctic Convoys, said it was an honour to be invited to the village to tell his story.

He was presented with a commendation from the Mayor of Soraya by West Scotland MSP Paul O’Kane.

East Renfrewshire Provost Jim Fletcher, who also attended the civic reception, said: “It was a genuine pleasure to meet Roy and hear of his exploits on HMS Zambesi.

“Roy was involved in the rescue of hundreds of Norwegian civilians who fled from the Nazis and were settled in Neilston for a period during the war.

“We all owe Roy and his comrades our grateful thanks for their outstanding bravery.”