Despite surviving what Winston Churchill called ‘the worst journey in the world’, veteran Harold Straw had to wait 70 years before receiving his war medal.
The 92-year-old former Able Seaman set sail from Scotland in January 1943 for Mermansk on the north coast of Russia, two years after signing up to the Royal Navy as a 19-year-old eager to help the war effort.
He served on the SS Temple Arch – a Merchant Navy vessel at the head of a convoy aimed at resupplying the Soviet Union.
But he came under multiple attacks from German U-boat torpedoes and had to cope with mind-numbing temperatures as low as minus 30 as he sailed above the Arctic Circle.
In the last three months, 70 years since the campaign began, the 240 veterans who survived have been receiving their Arctic Star medals they were promised at the end of the Second World War.
Harold received his last week.
“It makes you think,” he said, reflecting on the honour.
“It becomes something you never talk about – I certainly never spoke about it.
“But it’s something you don’t forget.
“It’s pleasing in a way but we shouldn’t have had to wait so long for it.”
He explained how he was bombed three times a night.
By May 1945, the Arctic route had claimed 104 merchant and 16 military vessels. Thousands of Allied seamen lost their lives.
“It was rough,” said Harold.
“We had tanks on board and we were full of ammunition.
“You certainly didn’t want to get hit with all that on board!”
Harold’s nephew Tony Leivers, who persuaded him to write the book Unsung Heroes about his war experiences in 2010, was pleased for his uncle. “It’s fantastic – it’s marvellous,” he said.
“But it should have come sooner.”
Tony, who lives with Harold in Cantelupe Road, helped his uncle fill in all the paperwork, for which he had to offer ‘conclusive proof’ that he had served in the Arctic Convoys.
Harold, who has four other medals for his service in the war, later served in Egypt and took part in the invasion of Sicily.
Harold quit the Navy after the war and took a job at the former Charnos hosiery factory.