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Veteran's 70-year wait to be given war honour

Sandwell | News | Published:

A war hero has finally been recognised for his bravery with a special medal, after a 20-year campaign.

Former Royal Navy seaman Joseph Jones, now aged 90, was yesterday presented with the Arctic Star Medal to recognise his efforts as part of the crews that escorted supply ships to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, when he was aged just 18.

Mr Jones, who was born in Old Hill and now lives in Farm Road in Rowley Regis, was presented with the medal by Mayor of Sandwell Keith Davies at a ceremony at the Age UK Day Centre in West Bromwich.

And it was received after 20 years of campaigning by veterans of the convoy missions and their families, for them to get the recognition they deserve for serving in dangerous and freezing conditions. More than 3,000 sailors died during the convoy missions.

he end of our Arctic convoy now, and it's taken us 70 years. It's a pity that such a lot have died before they could even handle one of these medals.

"I never thought I should see this day."

As a member of crew on the M-class destroyer HMS Matchless Mr Jones was involved in the famous Battle of the North Cape on Boxing Day 1943, when German battleship Scharnhorst was sunk as it attempted to intercept a convoy. Mr Jones can recall the events of that night with startling clarity.

He said: "We were on a return journey when straight away we heard the Scharnhorst had left Norway. They knew it was making its way to the convoy going to Russia. Everyone said we had no hope.

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"We joined the HMS Belfast, Norfolk and Sheffield and they started firing on it. I could see the star shells going up into the night sky and lighting it up."

Mr Jones pulled one of only 36 German sailors out of the water. The rest of the 1,968 crew were lost. His son Graham, from Tividale, was at the ceremony yesterday. He said: "I'm very, very proud." It was only in February this year that veterans of the bitter convoys to Russia 70 years ago were finally able to apply for the Arctic Star medals.

It is thought between 200 and 400 sailors – all now in their late 80s at their youngest – survive from the four-year-long campaign, a mission Churchill acknowledged was 'the worst journey in the world'.

The decision to award the belated medal was made at the end of last year by Prime Minister David Cameron after a long-running campaign by survivors, and a review of medals carried out by Whitehall.

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As part of that review, Mr Cameron also announced a Bomber Command clasp for veterans of the aerial campaign against the Third Reich.

As many as a quarter of a million medals and clasps could be produced, with priority given to veterans and widows. Other next of kin may also apply now but will have to wait slightly longer to receive their award. The four-year struggle to provide material to support the Soviet war effort cost the lives of around 3,000 sailors and merchant seamen and more than 100 civilian and military ships were lost.

The Arctic Star is granted for operational service of any length north of the Arctic Circle from September 3 1939 to May 8 1945, inclusive.

The Arctic Star is intended to commemorate the Arctic Convoys and is designed primarily for the ships of the convoys to North Russia and their Escorts.

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