Belfast Telegraph

'When the ship was sunk I lost 180 friends... they are very much in my mind today'

By Claire Williamson

Thomas Jess (91) from Co Down: "It's one good day in my lifetime. I didn't think I would see this day. It's special.

"It's very emotional. I've had one bad day in my lifetime when the ship was sunk and I lost 180 good friends. Today they are very much in my mind. The medal is beyond my expectation. When I got the British one it arrived in recorded delivery, just through the post, no ceremony. But this is completely different."

Robert David McCullough (92) from Belfast

"It's a great feeling. I never thought I would see this day, we had given up a few times and then our enthusiasm was renewed. It's the final push. I'm very proud of everything, it's emotional when I think back.

"I was on the HMS Ulysses. I have all my medals on the wall and this one will be pride of place. It was a big day, but it was carried out lovely."

Philip James Ball (92) From Cornwall, lives in Templepatrick

"It brings back a lot of memories and I'm very proud to accept this medal. It is emotional but it's been a lovely day and such a lovely ceremony. I was asked do I recognise anyone and I'm afraid the answer is no, because we have a lot more wrinkles now. But it was nice meeting some of the Navy fellows who were in convoy as I was as a young man, it brings back memories. I never thought I'd reach this age. I was delighted and honoured when I left the Navy after serving 35 years that Her Majesty the Queen awarded me the OBE, that's a highlight as well, but this ceremony was on par."

John Atkinson (90) from Whitehead

"After we invaded Italy and came from the Mediterranean up to Scotland and got fuel and fur coats and all the rest, we picked up a convoy at Lough Ewe on November 15, 1943 and we went from there to the north of Iceland, and then went up round the north cape.

"It was nearly the middle of winter, and then coming back we were diverted to Belfast to the shipyard to get the boat for the Far East. But I left it and we spent two or three weeks in Belfast and I got shifted in January to the Far East.

"So in the space of a year I went from the Mediterranean to Arctic convoy then out to the Far East. I'm really honoured that the Russian Government have recognised us. It's a special day."

Reginald Denis McClelland (88) from Bangor

"I'm very pleased indeed because I thought, due to the present frosty relations diplomatically, that the medal was a write-off. I had applied six months ago and never heard a squeak and then I got this very fine laid-out letter from the Russian embassy telling me I had been awarded it.

"It was very special and brought back a lot of memories.

"(During a convoy) HMS Bluebell, which was a frigate, came alongside and the crew were exceptionally talented and they put a supper on for us and it was most enjoyable, but unfortunately on leaving it had gone ahead to sweep for submarines and it was torpedoed, and of the 93 men on board only one survived. So it was very personal having met quite a few of the crew that night before."

Isaac Higginson (96) from Ballyclare

"I served on HMS Black Prince in the Royal Navy during the Russian convoys, which was the latter part of the war. I started off on HMS Valiant as a gunner and I was serving on the same ship as the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip. It means a lot to me. I have a lot of memories - because at my age, I'll be 97 next March. They keep me going, and say 'come on Isaac, you will hit 100 yet and get a telegram from the Queen'. I say just one day at a time."

John Robert Cumming (92) from Newtownards

"It's all very nostalgic. We waited a long time. I had an invitation way back in August from the embassy in London wanting us over there, but they only give you a few days' notice. Some of the memories, I know a couple of men who have died since. I was surprised there were 16 here, but who knows how many should have been here but are no longer here. Of all the medals we did get, if you could be said to earn a medal, I think we earned the one on the Russian convoys."

Ruth McNair, collecting on behalf of her husband Robert McNair from Cregagh, who died this year aged 89

"It was very emotional. It was a beautiful ceremony and I appreciate it. I'm very proud of everything he has done. He had a big role. He died on the March 23, so he had no idea there was going to be one coming and I'm sorry about that, because it's such a lovely medal and the Russian people have been so nice. It's beautiful."

William Joseph Growcott (90), who lives in England

"I feel very pleased and I'm so proud to have got this. It brings back a lot of memories. I was from here, we went from Pollock Dock.

"The words from the ambassador really touched me. It was nice with the two anthems being played."

Tony Maxwell, on behalf of his dad Thomas Maxwell. Thomas died age 89 two years ago.

"He was in the Marines and went on to do every one of the campaigns. I'm glad I got this medal for him. He lived with me for 10 years, I would have liked to have him here, unfortunately he wasn't here, but I could never have lived through what he lived through."

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