Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Almost 70 years on, veteran of Arctic Convoys receives Russian Ushakov medal

Tommy Jess, 90 year old war veteran at his home with his war medal.
Tommy Jess, 90 year old war veteran at his home with his war medal.

A navy veteran denied official recognition for his part in a pivotal World War II campaign has been awarded a medal after nearly 70 years.

The family of 90-year-old Tommy Jess launched a campaign urging the Government to award proper recognition of the bravery of veterans of the infamous Arctic Convoys.

A decision by the Government to deny elderly veterans the Russian Ushakov medal – awarded by a decree of the President of Russia to all participants of the convoys – drew criticism across the UK.

In October last year, Tommy's family was told by the Russian embassy that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office was blocking the Ushakov medal being awarded to him and other convoy veterans.

Tommy, a great-grandfather of 10, said: "I feel terribly annoyed, not only for me but for the other survivors, maybe fellas that went through worse than I did."

In December, under growing pressure, David Cameron announced a medal would be issued to convoy veterans, following a review.

The Arctic convoys have never been marked with an official campaign medal. Yet more than 3,000 sailors lost their lives on the missions.

Tommy was on his fifth convoy transporting vital supplies across a treacherous corridor of the Baltic Sea when the ship he was travelling on, the HMS Lapwing, was torpedoed. The Lapwing sank in 10 minutes – taking 180 men with it, just under half the ship's crew.

Nearly 70 years later, the Co Down man breaks down recalling friends he lost on the convoys.

"We know now that was the last convoy," he said.

"I remember it clearly. It was March 20, 1945 at 11 in the morning. The last order I got on board was, 'every man for himself'. We all had to jump."

Tommy lost a close friend from Banbridge and he had to deliver to his friend's parents the news of their son's death.

"I appreciate this medal after so many years. Another two years and it would have been 70 years (wait)," he said.

But undaunted, Tommy has vowed to continue his campaign for the Ushakov medal.

"It's not finished yet," he said. "But I'm not going to pin my hopes on it. They might have to pin it on my gravestone if they wait any longer."

Background

The Arctic Convoys are credited with helping Russia resist Hitler's army as it invaded. The military supplies buoyed the Red Army to push back against the Nazis. More than 3,000 seamen were killed on 78 convoys – which delivered 4m tons of cargo during World War II. Eight-five merchant ships and 16 Royal Navy vessels were destroyed. It is thought that only 200 of the 66,500 men who sailed on the convoys are alive today.

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