World War Two Merchant Navy heroes finally honoured after 70 years

Orston Bulman fron Cleadon with his Arctic Star medal.
Orston Bulman fron Cleadon with his Arctic Star medal.
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ARCTIC Convoy veterans have finally received a medal from the Government to acknowledge their service during the Second World War almost 70 years after sailing.

Merchant Navy personnel had never officially been recognised for their bravery despite risking their lives to deliver food and supplies to Russia between 1941 and 1945, in what Winston Churchill called “the worst journey in the world.”

They were offered the Russian Ushakov medal by the President of Russia, only to be blocked by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who said it was illegal to accept it from the Russian government.

But after years of campaigning the British Ministry of Defence created the Arctic Star.

Former Merchant Navy engineer Orston Bulman, 94, of Cleadon, said he thinks the medal is compensation. “I think we got this because we can’t receive the Russian medal,” he said. “Some rule says it has been too long now for us to accept it, so I think our government feel they have to give us this.”

In December Prime Minister David Cameron recommended that the Honours & Decorations Committee proceed with awarding the Arctic Star, subject to approval by the Queen, following a report by former diplomat Sir John Holmes.

At the time, he said: “I’m delighted to be able to tell the House that we have reached a resolution.

“On the Arctic Convoys, Sir John has recommended, and I fully agree, that we will be issuing an Arctic campaign medal.”

Mr Bulman, who served in the largest of the Russian Convoys, the PQ16 which sailed to Murmansk, added: “I have waited a long time for this medal – almost 70 years – so I am pleased to have it.

“I can’t believe they have finally sent it. My son is in Spain at the moment, and my daughter in Australia, but when they come home and I tell them they will be shocked.”

Former seaman John Clayburn, 87, also from Cleadon, sailed in one of the last convoys in 1945.

He said: “It has been so long since I sailed that it is difficult to remember that time – not that I want to.

“I’m pleased to finally receive a medal from the British Government, but I am disappointed that we won’t receive the Russian medal.

“That one was to honour our bravery, and the British campaign medal is just to acknowledge that we were there.

“Still though, I am pleased. It is just a shame that so many of those who were involved have already gone and never had the chance to receive it.”

THE Arctic convoys were made up of vessels which travelled from Britain to northern Russia to resupply the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

Under constant threat of attack by German U-boats and aircraft, the craft also had to deal with severe cold, storms, and ice floes.By May 1945, the Arctic route had claimed 104 merchant and 16 military vessels. Thousands of Allied seamen lost their lives.

Winston Churchill reportedly called the route the “worst journey in the world.”