A proud Royal Navy veteran has received a rare medal from the Russian military for his courageous service during the Second World War’s Arctic Convoys.
Mr Jim Bates, who served as an Able Seaman on board the destroyer HMS Wilton, has been awarded the Ushakov medal, verified by no less than Russian President Vladimir Putin.
What you did 70 years ago, taking part in what Sir Winston Churchill rightly called ‘the worst journey in the world’, was extraordinary even among what is considered to be beyond the call of dutyRussian Ambassador Dr Alexander Yakovenko
Jim, the president of the Burnley and Padiham Royal British Legion, received the medal from Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle who collected it from the Russian Embassy in London.
Sabden-born Mr Bates (93) said: “I am very proud to receive this medal after so many years. Last year, our government finally decided to award us the Arctic Star and now we have received this.
“I just feel sorry for all the lads who didn’t live to receive the medal, either being killed during the war or dying in the years since.”
The Arctic Convoys saw about 1,400 merchant ships deliver essential supplies to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease programme, escorted by ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and the U.S. Navy.
Mr Bates recounted the role he played on board the Wilton as a gun loader and depth charge loader – an experience he described as “rough”.
He added: “I made around four or five trips, usually sailing from Scapa Flow to Murmansk and Archangel in Russia.
“It was a rough time. We were bombed from the air and by U-boats nearly all the way once we left British waters.
“It was extremely cold and we had a few close shaves but it was so important. We were taking arms and food out to the Russians and taking their timber back to Britain.
“The convoys helped the Russians to beat the Germans in the East so it was vital to the war effort.”
After the Arctic operation, Jim’s ship served in the Mediterranean, helping in the Sicily and North Africa landings, as well as the famed Santa Marija Convoy to Malta as part of Operation Pedestal.
In a speech to the veterans of the Arctic Convoys, the Russian Ambassador Dr Alexander Yakovenko said: “It is a huge privilege for me to thank you on behalf of the Russian Government for the invaluable contribution you and your comrades-in-arms made to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
“What you did 70 years ago, taking part in what Sir Winston Churchill rightly called ‘the worst journey in the world’, was extraordinary even among what is considered to be beyond the call of duty.
“Thousands of Allied seamen lost their lives as the British ships sailed in the unwelcoming, stormy waters of the Arctic Ocean under a constant threat of being attacked by German U-boats and aircraft.
“Your heroism will always be remembered in Russia and Britain. Your deeds will continue to serve as the supreme expression of bravery and a high point in human spirit.
“I am confident that it was not by accident that our nations found themselves on the right side of history, which the followers of the ideology of hatred wanted to stop, while depriving nations of their inalienable right to decide their destiny.
“On the instructions of President Vladimir Putin I have the honour of presenting to you the Ushakov medal.”
The Medal of Ushakov was a Soviet military award created on March 3rd, 1944, by decision of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and named after Russian Admiral Fyodor Ushakov.
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “It was a great honour for me to collect and present Mr Bates with his medal.
“He is a very courageous man whose contribution helped to win the war. I am very pleased he has been honoured in this way.”