Arctic Star presentation
Veterans in their 90’s along side families of veterans past were honoured at the Fleet Air Arm Museum for their role in the Second World serving North of the Arctic Circle.
Six Veterans between the ages of 86 & 96 years old and 3 families representing those veterans recently deceased met to be presented with their Arctic Star Medals by Commanding Officer of Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton Commodore (Cdre) Jock Alexander OBE, with David Laws MP, Mayor Manny Roper and Mr Graham Cole Chairman of AgustaWestland, to acknowledge their unparalleled contribution.
The Arctic Star medal was commissioned earlier this year to recognise the outstanding bravery of the servicemen who delivered vital aid to the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945. These men were under constant threat from enemy submarine, air and surface ship attacks. On top of this they had to deal with terrible weather conditions and glacial arctic temperatures a truly perilous journey.
Cdre Alexander addressed the Veterans and their families and said;
“ A pilot by trade I was a Captain of a small ship for a short time doing fish protection duties so I know what rough weather is all about but I cant comprehend the weather you went through north of the Arctic Circle! I’d like to thank you for allowing me the honour of presenting you with this medal.”
Gordon Smart (94) completed 10 Arctic Convoys to Murmansk and Archangel on HMS Beagle. When asked if he good some up his experience said;
A sentiment echoed by the other five surviving veterans at the presentation including John Fay (92) from Chard in Somerset who served with the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) and dedicated a Chapter in his book ‘ Golden Wings and Navy Blue’ to the Arctic Convoy Experience.
Roderick Raymond (87) years of age from South Cadbury Somerset said:
“You had to chip ice off the deck and the guns by hand!” He added “I remember one particular engagement with the German battleship Scharnhorst on 26th December 1943. We fired on the Scharnhorst with the HMS Duke of York and escort destroyers. I was part of the Torpedo Crew at the time and still have the signatures from the Scharnhorst survivors who were picked up by the HMS Jamaica.”
Joyce Bentley was at the FAA Museum to accept the medal on behalf of her late husband Herbert Bentley who sadly passed away on Christmas Eve 2013. For Joyce it was understandably emotional so soon after losing Herbert but she felt that it was important to be there for him. Joyce said;
“Although I am so very sad, I am here for him. He had been so excited about coming to the presentation too” she added “it’s been a lovely thing I’m so glad I came with my family”.
At 89 Cyril Tolchard was just 15 years old when he joined the Royal Navy and served on the Dallas as an Able Seaman on two convoys in 1944 and 1945. He went to radar school and was involved in the use of the ship’s radars. He said;
“On the way back from Russia I was involved in a rescue mission to help save 200 people who were stranded and starving on an island close to Norway.”
Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB Chairman of Fly Navy Heritage Trust opened proceedings at the presentation for the veterans and their families and David Laws MP summarised their outstanding contribution and the debt we all owed the. The instigator of the presentation when he encouraged veterans and their families last year to contact him, David Laws said:
‘It is really important that we take a moment to recognise the astonishing bravery of these men. They performed a heroic duty in truly frightening conditions and we should never forget their contribution to Britain’s war effort. It is about time that contribution was formally recognised.”
Others receiving medals were Thomas Warden (86), Cyril Small (89) from Yeovil who was a torpedo operator and Roy Young (96) of Yeovil. Roy said ;
“I am no hero I just survived.”
Also at the presentation was Andrew Jones who represented his late Father William George Charles Jones and Katharine White was presented on behalf of her Grandfather Gordon Mason. Year 6 from Huish Primary School, was invited along to the ceremony as they are studying rationing during the Second World War 2. The children dressed as World War 2 evacuees had the opportunity to meet the veterans and hear their recollections.
The medal is awarded to members of the British Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy who served north of the Arctic Circle during the Second World War in Arctic Convoys to help the Russians. It is thought that there are between 200 and 400 surviving sailors who endured this perilous journey, whilst the families of those no longer alive can also apply for the Arctic Star to commemorate their loved ones’ service.