Local World War Two veterans were awarded Russia’s Medal of Ushakov at Walsall Town Hall on Wednesday 25 February 2015.
The Embassy of the Russian Federation hosted a ceremony to award the Ushakov Medal to twenty-two local veterans involved in the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War.
The veterans were accompanied by family and friends at this moving event where they were greeted by the Mayor of Walsall, Councillor Pete Smith, and presented with their medals by Sergey Fedichkin, from the Russian Federation’s Embassy.
Councillor Pete Smith said: “This was a proud day for Walsall to see their veterans awarded Russia’s Medal of Ushakov in recognition of their brave exploits during the Arctic Convoys.
“The Arctic Convoys were very dangerous and conditions were among the worst faced by any Allied sailors.
“Over four million tons of essential supplies were delivered to the Russians between 1941 and 1945 and it is truly noble of the Russians to continue to recognise these veterans who risked their lives to help them.”
Third Secretary of the Russian Embassy, Sergey Fedichkin, said, “This ceremony is done for the Arctic Convoy veterans to recognise their invaluable contribution.
“Their heroism will always be remembered both in Russia and in the UK and this will continue to serve as a supreme expression of bravery and kindred spirits.
“I am confident it was not by accident that our nations found ourselves on the right side of history. This truly critical point of history will forever remain an important part of European spiritual heritage including the ties between our two navies.”
Of the twenty-two veterans honoured, some posthumously, seven hail from the borough of Walsall.
Kenneth Taylor, aged 88, from Beechdale served on an Arctic Convoy in February 1945 when he was aged just 18. His was a hectic journey as they were constantly under attack by enemy aircraft and Kenneth manned gun number two in defence.
Kenneth recalled that their route would be dictated by information received from Bletchley Park whose staff worked out where U-boats were likely to be through the interception of their radio messages.
Eventually his ship was sunk by a U-boat in a strait near Murmansk. They were picked up by HMS Bluebell and taken to harbour. HMS Bluebell later suffered a torpedo attack and was sunk in the same strait with only one survivor.
When asked how he had enjoyed the day’s medal ceremony, he said, “It was alright,” and then with a smile added, “I’m still alive!”
Ivor Oldbury, aged 89, is from High Heath Pelsall and was accompanied by four generations of his family; daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter and great great grandsons. He too was only 18 when he served as a stoker with the Royal Navy.
His ship left Liverpool in November 1944 as escort to one of the convoys and luckily avoided being gunned or torpedoed.
When asked what it felt like to have the Ushakov medal handed over by the Russian Federation, Ivor simply replied, “Smashing!”
John Kinsella, from Aldridge and aged 91, enlisted with the Royal Navy in December 1941 serving in the Mediterranean at first. He was in the Y Service working for Bletchley Park intercepting enemy radio transmissions from the German U-boats.
John explained, “Whatever duty they wanted us on, they would tell us where we would pick up the ship and that’s what we did, either as escort duty or shooting up enemy ships along the Norwegian coast.”
He did three trips to Spitsbergen taking Norwegian troops and their ammunition on board HMS Belfast. John once met Randolph Churchill who sat next to him on an RAF plane. John was with nine others and Churchill remarked, “Bloody hell, flying sailors!”
When asked how he felt about the day’s medal ceremony, John said, “I enjoyed it – I had to get up early to pin all my medals on and now I have the Medal of Ushakov to join them.”
The Medal of Ushakov was created in 1944 and is named in honour of the Russian Admiral Fyodor Ushakov who never lost a battle and was proclaimed patron saint of the Russian Navy. The medal was awarded to their navy’s service personnel.
The medal was subsequently retained by the Russian Federation who reached an agreement whereby the Ushakov medal can be awarded to any Allied service personnel involved in the Arctic Convoys.
Photos from the ceremony at Walsall Town Hall, courtesy of Ed Bagnall, can be viewed via this link: http://edbagnall.dphoto.com/album/d96b9w