Prestigious Russian war medal presented to Suffolk and Norfolk naval veterans for Arctic Convoy service
- Credit: Gregg Brown
They battled through extreme cold weather taking vital supplies to the Soviet Union – all under the constant threat of attacks from the Nazi navy.
Now, 70 years since the end of the Second World War, 25 servicemen from Suffolk and Norfolk have been presented with the Russian Ushakov medal in a ceremony at Suffolk County Council’s Endeavour House.
The convoys have been acknowledged as some of the toughest missions in the war and occupied a large number of Allied and Axis forces for four years.
Initially the British Foreign Office did not want the foreign medals awarded but a campaign last year on behalf of surviving veterans saw rules relaxed. Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded the first batch himself when visiting Britain in June 2014.
Yesterday former servicemen from Suffolk received the medal from Russian officials at a moving ceremony, the only one of its kind to be held in the county.
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Opening the event Suffolk County Council chairman Jane Storey addressed the veterans, their families and guests including Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, The Countess of Euston, and Ipswich mayor Glenn Chisholm.
She said it was a “really auspicious day” for the veterans and thanked everyone for attending.
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Liza Vokorina, an attaché from Russian Embassy in London, said they had made “invaluable contributions to defeating Nazi Germany” and added: “Your heroism will always be remembered both in Russia and in Britain.”
After the medals had been presented by assistant naval attaché Commander Dmitry Sharapov, Ms Vokorina said: “The United Kingdom and the Soviet Union were the two countries which carried the heaviest burden in the Second World War and we fully recognise this.
“Great Britain helped us immensely during the war because this operation helped us to win the war. We did this together.
“Half of these young men in their teens perished in the waters of the Arctic Ocean. It’s really important younger generations know what their fathers and grandfathers did.”
Ms Vokorina said members of the armed forces in other countries, such as those from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, received their medals decades ago and it was a proud moment to be able to finally include the British in the roll of honour.
She said the medal was the highest award which could be made to naval personnel.
“This medal is not a government medal, it’s a presidential medal, so it’s always signed in by the head of the state.
“It’s the most prestigious award in the Russian Navy. Everyone who has it is a real hero, the heroes who took part in our military operations at sea.”
As well as the personalised medal in a presentation box, bearing a number associated with each individual, the recipients were given a document detailing who had been given the award and the signature of President Putin, along with an English translation.
Case studies: The men who braved the Arctic waters
Thomas Brosnan, from Suffolk, was just 16 when he spent 30 days at sea escorting merchant vessels from Britain to the Soviet Union aboard a Royal Naval battleship.
He admits he did not see much of the barren Arctic landscape from his position in the turret, but he certainly knew he was there because of the plummeting temperatures.
“I asked this commander in charge of the turret, ‘Could I have a duffel coat?’” he said.
“It was freezing cold and he said to me, ‘When the icicles start forming in here (the turret), I’ll sign a chit for a duffel coat for you.’
“He was there with his duffel coat and hot meals. All we had was a Cornish pasty and cheese sandwich.”
Mr Brosnan said while some of the memories had long since been forgotten, he remembered spending eight hours on watch with just four hours rest, sometimes interrupted by a call to action stations.
Patricia Wells collected a medal on behalf of her late husband, Bernard.
He died earlier this year and Mrs Wells could not hide her emotions as she received the honour.
“He never spoke very much about it,” she said of her husband’s war service. “He was on the Pursuer and did three tours.
“I’m more than proud of him. He was proud of his medals. He’s got loads more.
“They hang in the lounge and this will go with them.”