Plymouth veteran still waiting for his medal six decades on
A VETERAN of the gruelling Second World War Arctic convoys is grateful he survived to see the day the Government agreed to create a special medal for him and his comrades.
But the new Arctic Convoy Star will not be struck until next summer, and Lt Cdr Gordon Bruty fears that time will snatch away the final prize from some of the handful of men who are left.
About 66,000 Royal Navy sailors and merchant seamen ran the gauntlet of German planes and U-boats to supply the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel between 1941 and 1945. Without them, Hitler might have triumphed quickly on the Eastern Front and turned his full attention on Britain.
More than 3,000 men died, and 85 merchant ships and 16 Royal Navy vessels were lost. Only about 200 of the veterans are alive today.
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After a decade-long campaign David Cameron, the Prime Minister, agreed this month that the veterans would finally get recognition. Russia awarded commemorative medals for the convoys in 1985.
Speaking in his Glenholt home yesterday Mr Bruty, 92, recalled his years on the County Class cruiser HMS London. He said morale on the convoys was high. “We knew we had a job to do, and the crew were mostly youngsters.
“We felt very sorry for the ships which had been sunk but we couldn’t stop to rescue the survivors because that would have made us a target,” he said.
Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister, described the mission as the “worst journey in the world”. Sailors braved treacherous seas and temperatures as low as -60C.
“In summer it was quite pleasant, but then it got very cold,” Mr Bruty said with typical understatement. HMS London carried a Supermarine Walrus, a catapult-launched, amphibious biplane, and one of Mr Bruty’s jobs was working on the catapult.
“I had to chip the ice off,” he said.
Mr Bruty wrote to the Queen earlier this year, urging her to support the campaign.
“I am told there are only 200 of us left,” he said. “And we’ll lose some of them before the summer, but at least they’ve agreed to give the medal posthumously.”
Mr Bruty spent the whole of the Second World War on HMS London.
When war ended in 1945 he was given just two weeks’ leave before being sent out to the Far East to bring back British troops. He went to see his mother, and then visited his sweetheart Jennie (who is now 91), marrying her four days later.
Their marriage has already lasted 67 years – as long as the campaign for an Arctic convoys medal.