Ernie Tough more than lived up to his name when he survived a World War Two Arctic convoy which suffered the loss of five ships under attack by German air, U-boat and surface forces in 1942.
The 91-year-old, of Purton Road, yesterday received the Arctic Star medal from Swindon Mayor Nick Martin for his efforts during the convoy.
Ernie was a part of Convoy PQ 13, which delivered war supplies from the Western Allies to the USSR. Aboard the SS New Westminster City, he sailed from Loch Ewe, Scotland, on March 10, 1942, and arrived in Murmansk, Russia, on March 30, surviving persistent attacks from German forces.
Just four days later, Ernie’s ship was bombed in Murmansk port and sunk on April 4. Two members of the 52-strong crew were lost as a result.
After playing his part in what Winston Churchill described as the “worst journey in the world,” Ernie became a firefighter in Swindon, a role he sought for the action which came with it.
Ernie’s son, Peter, 67, who cares for his parents at their Purton Road address, could not hide the pride he has for his father and his achievements.
“It’s a marvellous achievement. Churchill described it as the worst-ever, so he deserves this,” said Peter.
“He’s never really talked about it much, which I think shows how bad it was for him. He tried to push it from his memory.
“The only thing he ever said was that they spent an awful lot of time chipping ice off the ship.
“He’s even got a medal from the Russian people to thank them. Without what they did I don’t think Russia would have survived.
“After he came out I just think he wanted to do something with a bit of action, so he became firefighter.”
The Arctic Star is a retrospective award, which only came into being in December 2012.
Following a review into the rules and principles governing the award of military campaign medals, David Cameron and the coalition Government backed a recommendation for veterans to be recognised.
Coun Martin (Con, Shaw) said: “We are 70 years on, but we know people, like Ernie, who actually made the effort for people like ourselves by putting their lives on the line.
“A little while ago I was astonished to see how many of the servicemen were still alive, even now.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to meet the people I get to. This is a fabulous achievement for Ernie and a piece of history.”