A MEMBER of South Tyneside’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ is looking forward to an early birthday present – a long-overdue medal recognising his service during the Second World War.
It is 70 years since the Arctic convoys ran the gauntlet of German warplanes and U-boats to keep the Soviet Union supplied on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.
The crews of the Merchant Navy convoys have been rewarded with a commemorative medal from the Russians.
But a gong recognising their service had not been forthcoming in their own homeland –until now, and the Arctic Convoy Star medal will be distributed to veterans “within weeks”.
Until two years ago, seven surviving veterans of the convoys met once a month at the Mission to Seafarers on the Mill Dam in South Shields.
Today one of the group, Bob Robertson, 91, of Mowbray Road, South Shields, expressed delight that the new medal will soon be on its way to him.
He said: “This is most welcome news. It’s long overdue, but I’m grateful all the same. I’m 92 on May 6, so this will be an early birthday present for me.”
Mr Robertson took part in the convoys between 1942 and 1943 as a 23-year-old.
His most vivid memory was of of Boxing Day, 1943, when the German battleship Scharnhorst was sunk by HMS Duke of York off North Cape, in northern Norway.
The enemy vessel was en route to attack Mr Robertson’s convoy at the time.
He added: “We weren’t allowed to wear the medal we received from the Russian government on ceremonial occasions but we will be able to wear this, new medal on our left side.
“It’s also something I can leave for my son when I pass on. I’m sure all the club members will be looking forward to receiving it.”
Some 3,000 seamen died serving on the convoys as they made what Winston Churchill referred to as “the worst journey in the world”.
The route the convoys took was particularly hazardous, not only because of the severe weather in winter and increased visibility during the long hours of daylight in the summer, but also because the convoys passed close to Nazi-occupied Norway, which left them vulnerable to attack by U-boats, surface vessels and aircraft.
Mark Francois, Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, said: “All those who served our country in Bomber Command and on the Arctic Convoys deserve nothing but the utmost respect and admiration from us.
“That’s why I am delighted that these special individuals will in the next few weeks begin to receive the Bomber Command clasp and Arctic Star that they have so long deserved.
“I am also pleased to announce that the families of those no longer alive will also be able to apply for these awards in recognition of their loved ones’ bravery.”