VETERANS of the “worst journey in the world” have been recognised by the Russian government for their efforts in the Arctic Convoys by being awarded the Ushakov Medal.
The Russian military honour was presented to 50 veterans from across the south-west at a ceremony in Trowbridge on Friday, including 88-year-old Arthur Taylor of Royal Wootton Bassett.
Survivors of the perilous convoy route to ensure vital supplies reached Russia during the Second World War have been recognised with Arctic Star medals over recent years, and were honoured by Russian minister Alexander Kramarenko last week.
Arthur said he was lucky to survive the arduous journeys because they led him to his wife of more than 30 years.
“I found out I would get the medal three weeks ago when the Russian Embassy wrote to me,” he said.
“It was a surprise because I have already got the Arctic Star.
“The first one was very welcome because us old codgers have been waiting 65 years for this.
“I am very proud to have it, and it was a real honour to be there with the other 49 veterans who were there.
“When I was demobbed in 1947 I moved to Scotland to be with my wife, so I didn’t really keep in touch with the others.
“I joined the Navy in 1943 at 17 because at that time it was a choice between the coal mines or the forces. I was very fortunate on the convoy I was on, because we had quite a quiet trip and some of the other convoys had a very rough time of it.
“It was far from pleasant, it was cold and icy and rough weathers.You would be on your guard all the time, and if something happened to your ship you could not stop to pick up the survivors because you would be a sitting target. I was very lucky to come back in one piece because many didn’t.
“It was through the Russian convoys that I met my wife because I was stationed in Glasgow for a time. It was a real honour to serve and be able to help the Russians in the war.”
Roy While, the chairman of Wiltshire Council, said: “We are all delighted these men are being recognised again to honour their gallantry, and it’s a source of enormous pride that we have so many of them living in the south west.
“It was a huge privilege to be able to host this special ceremony at County Hall and welcome so many veterans. I’ve already spoken to a number of the veterans, all over 90 and keen to be here.”
Described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”, the Arctic Convoy ships of the Royal and Merchant Navies made repeated journeys to ensure vital supplies of arms and food supplies reached Russian shores.
Their efforts are recognised as helping Russia’s war effort and significantly shortening the war.
The Ushakov Medal is awarded to soldiers and sailors for bravery and courage displayed while risking their lives to defend the Russian Federation.