“FINALLY, we are getting what we deserve”.
That was the message from Sunderland’s Arctic Convoy veterans who were presented with a medal from the Government yesterday.
Eleven former merchant navy seamen received the Arctic Star, which recognises their service in the Second World War, 70 years after sailing in what Winston Churchill described as the “worst journey in the world”.
The ceremony took place at South Shields Town Hall, and the medals were presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Nigel Sherlock.
Among those attending were Orston Bulman, 94, of Cleadon, John Clayburn, 87, of Fulwell, George Lomax, 94, and Cristobell Campos, 94, of West Boldon.
More than 3,000 men died in the freezing waters of the Arctic as they worked to keep supplies flowing through German blockades to Britain’s ally, the Soviet Union.
Mr Clayburn, who sailed in one of the last convoys in 1945, said: “I never thought it would be anything like this. I was nervous, but now I’m here I feel like I could get up and say something if they wanted me too.”
The medal ceremony was the first Mr Lomax, who took four members of his family, had attended.
“I didn’t get much sleep last night, thinking about it,” he said.
“My medal only arrived in the post this morning, so I was relieved I had it to bring.
“I’m enjoying it now. It is the first event like this I have been too, and it’s good to meet the other men.”
Mr Campos, originally from Spain, sailed in a convoy in 1943. He said: “It was very good. It is good to see all of the men alive and getting the medal, and I have been talking to them all.”
Mr Bulman, who sailed in the PQ16 convoy in 1942, and was joined by eight members of his family at the event, said he was overwhelmed by the ceremony.
“I never thought it was going to be like this,” he said. “They have really gone to town on it. I can’t believe it. I just wish it had happened years ago when there were more around to receive it.”
Mayor of South Shields Coun Ernest Gibson, who opened the ceremony, said it was an honour to host the ceremony.
“Everyone owes their present day freedom to the convoy veterans,” he said.
Nigel Sherlock said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be here.
“If Winston Churchill called it the worst journey in the world then it must have been, so I am delighted to present them with their medals.”
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