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Honour for heroes of Arctic convoys
12:00pm Sunday 29th September 2013 in News
SEVENTY years after surviving sub zero temperatures, 25 Wiltshire veterans received their Arctic Star medals at a presentation at County Hall in Trowbridge on Friday.
Third secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation, Igor Chamov, joined Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Sarah Rose Troughton, and five members of parliament from Wiltshire and Swindon, who presented the medals.
Described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”, the Arctic Convoy ships of the Royal and Merchant Navies made repeated perilous journeys in sub-zero temperatures to ensure vital food and arms supplies reached Russian shores.
Many lost their lives and the efforts of all those who took part are widely recognised as helping Russia’s war effort and significantly shortening the Second World War, but it has taken over 70 years for their heroic efforts to receive proper recognition.
South Swindon MP Robert Buckland presented the medals to Swindon veterans Philip Strong, Eric Whyte and Cecil Maynard.
Mr Strong, 89, was in Convoy PQ 18 sent from Britain to aid the Soviet Union but ran aground five miles from Murmansk.
The anti-aircraft gunner, who joined the Royal Navy at 18, said: “It took eight hours to tow us one hundred yards because of the ice. We had to keep stopping because people were walking across the ice.”
He spent four months in Russia, spending the first night in a lighthouse as they thought the ship would turnover.
“We didn’t get any pay,” he said. “We had chocolate sent to us and children would hang about outside the gates and buy the chocolate from us.”
Mr Whyte, 89, was a leading signalman and was loaned to destroyers while serving in the Arctic Convoy.
While on HMS Impulsive he said: “We left the convoy at Kola Inlet where the Russians took over. We stayed in Russia for several days and came back to pick up the empty convoy. The weather heading back was so rough we couldn’t keep in formation and the convoy split up. We were headed for Orkney Island but ended up in Iceland.”
Mr Whyte, who met his wife Violet in 1943 when she was working as a signal wren, described weather conditions as horrendous.
He said: “We had arctic clothing; long johns, leather gloves, sheepskin coats. The wind would get in your eyes, but you had to carry on.”
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