Padiham war veteran awarded Arctic Star medal

A Padiham veteran who sailed in the notorious wartime Arctic convoys has finally been honoured 70 years on.

Jim Bates, of St Leonard’s Street, was part of the Royal Navy fleet which braved the treacherous 2,000-mile voyage through icy Russian waters in the convoys branded “the worst journey in the world” by Winston Churchill.

Royal British Legion member and former sailor, Jim Bates, pictured with his medal 70 years after the Russian convoys.

Royal British Legion member and former sailor, Jim Bates, pictured with his medal 70 years after the Russian convoys.

The 91-year-old made the infamous trip five times during the Second World War which saw thousands of Allied seamen killed battling through U Boat-infested waters, waves of Nazi warplanes and sub-zero storms.

The heroics of the men who served in the Arctic campaign had officially unrecognised by the Government since the war.

But now Jim, who is president of Burnley and Padiham Royal British Legion, has finally been given the Arctic Star medal honouring his role in the wartime campaign.

Jim was honoured to receive his Arctic Star but said it was a shame hundreds of veterans died before the Government finally presented the medal earlier this year.

He said: “I am proud to receive this medal but we should have had this medal years ago. We have been waiting since 1942 for the medal.

“We have campaigned hard for this – people marched on Downing Street and tried for years to get this medal.

“I am thankful for the medal but why did the Government not give us the medal years ago?

“There must only be around 10% of the veterans left now still living to receive the medal. It is not fair on the men who died who will never get the chance to wear it.”

Jim, who also sailed in convoys to Malta, Italy and North Africa, joined the Navy at 18 years old and sailed the perilous Russian convoys aboard HMS Wilton.

He said: “The conditions were really terrible. The waves would freeze on the decks. The conditions alone with the rough weather and ice apart from the enemy attacking from the day we left Scotland to returning back from Russian ports with aircraft and U-Boats.

“The enemy was trying to stop support going to Russia and they tried their damndest to do it.”

In one attack, Jim said the convoy was forced to “scatter” and 32 ships and several escorts were sunk in the icy seas in one of the biggest and most tragic losses of the campaign.

He said: “That was terrible. It was one of the worst on the convoys. But you never see that on the films.”

He worked on gun supplies and depth charges to take out enemy submarines often for days on end against a barrage of enemy attacks.

But Jim played down his role, saying: “We don’t consider ourselves heroes. It was just a job we had to do and we just got on with it. I was one of the lucky ones that returned home.

“It’s important to remember the conflict. We do try and remind the younger generations.”