The Arctic Star medal and why Andy Goff will be applying for one even though the recipient isn’t bothered.
Dad is one of the estimated 200 survivors of that strange operation when capitalist countries propped up a vile Communist regime in order to fight the war against a vile Fascist regime.
Between September 1942 and March 1943, Dad was involved with four Arctic convoys. It’s fortunate for me that Dad survived the war, for the obvious reason. He also quite enjoyed it, in a ‘Boys Own’ kind of way.
I’ve heard tales of pulling men from the freezing water so coated in oil that the only way to get a grip on them was stick a finger up their bottom, of wrapping corpses in sail cloth – with the final stitch through the septum to ensure they were really dead – before consigning them overboard and how the ice had to be chipped from the decks to prevent the ship turning turtle.
The problem now is that his memory is not what it was. I’m uncertain of the veracity of what he’s told me in recent years.
He’s not that bothered about receiving the Arctic Star. Dad said: “It was seventy years ago and doesn’t mean much now”. He is, however, quite proud of the Arctic Emblem issued by the Russians a few years ago.
Every now and then a programme comes round on the TV with footage from that time and it brings home just how tough those seamen and women – in the case of the merchant ships – were; braving wild north Atlantic gales, dark grey waves higher than the ships, air attacks and constant threats from submarine attacks.
A long time ago Dad told me he was walking through Birmingham in civvies and a woman came up to him and gave him a white feather. For those who don’t know, she was branding him a coward for not signing up. Little did she know.
The nice part for me is that I have been in touch with ex-shipmates and relatives of those he served with – including the grandson of the Captain of his ship at the time of the convoys.
Dad doesn’t consider himself a hero – particularly in that over-worn style of the modern usage of that word – as he did what was required of him and treated it largely as a great adventure. It certainly beat building Spitfires in Castle Bromwich where he started his apprenticeship.
He may not be bothered about receiving the Arctic Star but I shall do what’s necessary to ensure he does receive it. Maybe through it – in a history lesson in the future – his Great Great Grandchildren will be able to connect with that dreadful war against Fascism – and be glad he survived.