Veterans from Wiltshire who braved sub-zero temperatures during the Second World War were honoured by Russia at a presentation ceremony in Trowbridge on Friday to recognise their bravery during the conflict.
The Russian Embassy invited veterans who had already received the Arctic Convoy Star Medal from the Ministry of Defence to a presentation ceremony at County Hall to receive the Medal of Ushakov.
A representative of the Russian Embassy, Alexander Kramarenko, also attended to thank the men.
Mr Kramarenko said: “It is a huge privilege for me to present to you the Ushakov medals on behalf of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.
“It is a very modest measure for the valuable contribution you made in World War Two as part of our allied effort to defeat Nazi Germany. It is highly symbolic, for our naval servicemen were awarded this medal during the war.”
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 to ensure vital supplies of arms and food supplies reached Russian shores.
Many lost their lives at the hands of Axis airmen, sailors and submariners but their efforts are widely recognised for helping Russia’s war effort and significantly shortening the war.
It has taken more than 70 years for their heroic efforts to receive proper recognition. The Medal of Ushakov is awarded to soldiers and sailors for bravery and courage displayed while risking their lives to defend the Russian Federation.
Mike Jackson, 89, from Marlborough, served as a watch keeper in two destroyers: HMS Savage and HMS Cassandra, which was torpedoed in December 1944.
He said: “I was near the rear of the ship; I didn’t know a lot about it. Sixty-two men were killed and many injured. Our watertight doors helped us to keep afloat and we were towed to Russia. I was back home on my parents’ doorstep on Christmas Eve 1944.
“I am very touched to be given this medal. It has been a long time coming. I am glad it is all over, like a lot of people.”
Ken Beard, 89, of Ludgershall, joined the Navy as a boy seaman when he was 14.
Mr Beard, who was a gunner, said: “I was in three convoys. The worst one was the PQ17, because that is when the convoy had to disperse. It is the one that stays in everybody’s minds. We lost 36 merchant ships.
“I feel very honoured today. This is a very prestigious medal. I am most grateful to the Russians because in my opinion it was the Russians offering us this that got us our British Arctic Medal.”
Ivan Harrison, 90, from Calne, who served on the HMS Suffolk and a destroyer during the Second World War, said: “I’m delighted to be here and get the medal as it’s great to be recognised after all these years.
“I think I was on one of the first convoys in around 1941 and one of the last in early 1945. In between then I did about 20 convoys. I started off as a boy seaman and I sort of grew up on those ships.
“I was exposed to some of the worst conditions and the seas were very rough and it was incredibly uncomfortable. We were also constantly fighting a battle against the ship’s movements.”
Arthur Taylor, 88, of Royal Wootton Bassett, joined the Navy at 17 in 1943 and left in 1947. He recalls dangerous, icy voyages to Murmansk and Archangel, with the constant threat of attack from U-boats.