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Forces War Records Blog


Blogger: GemSen Once described as “the worst journey in the world”, by Winston Churchill, the Arctic Convoy heroes risked their lives running a gauntlet of submarine, air and battleship attacks - often in sub-zero conditions. The North Atlantic Fleet sailed from 1941 to 1945 during World War II, from the UK to North Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel to aid Russian Allies. Merchant ships with supplies and ammunition were escorted by British Royal Naval ships and aircraft carriers - the supplies were vital to the war effort as German forces had Russia completely blockaded at the time. With German u-boats and aircraft fighting to stop supplies to Russia many ships were lost and the convoys, which sailed under the name Operation Dervish, cost 3,000 seamen their lives and most of the young men perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, their bodies never to be recovered. As well as Churchill recognising what a gruelling and challenging task the  Russian Convoys were, they were also referred to as ‘the Suicide Missions’ by many of the men that sailed on them. Unfortunately, there are only about 400 veterans still alive and it baffles me why it has taken so long for these war heroes to be honoured with the medals and recognition they so deserve. These are war heroes in every sense of the word and should be recognised for their courage and dedication to such a significant and gruelling mission. After a long campaign to recognise the extraordinary bravery of those who served in Arctic Circle, delivering supplies to the Soviet Union, during the Second World War, new Arctic Star medals were announced last year and are finally being handed out  70 years after the Arctic Convoys sailed to Russia. In a ceremony on Wednesday 12 June, Former merchant navy seamen will be honoured with their Arctic Stars, as reported by the Sunderland Echo. The presentation is to be held in South Shields town Hall where the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Nigel Sherlock, will formally present 11 veterans with their Arctic Stars. Now being acknowledged for their service between 1941 and 1945 are Orston Bulman, 94, of Cleadon, John Clayburn, 87, of Fulwell, and George Lomax, 94, of Gilley Law, which they have said is long overdue. Talking to the Sunderland Echo, Mr Bulman, who sailed in the PQ16 convoy in May 1942 said: “I’m really looking forward to it”.
“I can’t really believe it’s happening 70 years on.”
The civic reception was arranged after the ex-merchant navy engineer complained to his son, Philip, also a former chief engineer in the merchant navy, that he had received his medal through the post. Philip, 60, assisted by Colonel David Summers, of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, asked the Lord Lieutenant to present the medals. “I’m really pleased it is going ahead,” said Philip. “My dad was quite upset about his medal landing on his doormat, and now he is over the moon.” Mr Bulman, who has already received one medal from the Russian government, and two from the British government, said: “It’s quite unbelievable that this happened because I complained about my medal arriving by post. “If I hadn’t said anything, they never would have agreed to do it.” “My family are all looking forward to it. There will be eight of us going. And it will be nice for all the veterans to get together – those of us who are left.” Source: Sunderland Echo and Russian Arctic Convoy Museum. What are your thoughts on the new Arctic Star medals? Why do you think it has taken so long for recognition? Do you have any war heroes in your family? Tell us about them and their experiences below - if any, what medals have they received? Alternatively, search the Forces War Records site for more information on your ancestors and their military past. Also, available via the site are a range of replica war medals that are now available to buy - what better way to remember the achievements of the war heroes in your family.
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