AN APPRENTICE electrician whose war service with the Royal Navy took him from the Arctic to Australia has received the Arctic Star.
The medal has been approved following a lengthy campaign to gain recognition of the ‘great bravery’ of those who contributed to the Second World War effort to deliver much-needed supplies to Russia.
Now living on Chester Road, Whitby, with Jean, his wife of 68 years and a former Wren, 91-year-old Harry Hopson has a crystal clear recollection of the two convoys he sailed on in 1941 to the northern Russian port of Murmansk.
With temperatures plunging to -40ºC, ice quickly formed on the outside of the ships.
“On one occasion the captain called for all hands as the ship was in danger of turning turtle,” said Mr Hopson. It was thought there were 700 tons of ice and snow on the ship’s decks and superstructure.
All the time there was the prospect of attack from German submarines with the constant threat of the battleship Tirpitz lurking in Norwegian fjords.
Sailors did their best to keep their spirits up with impromptu shows and the midday tot of rum but Mr Hopson admits: “We were frightened to death.”
Mr Hopson had always fancied the Navy and joined up, serving as a rating wireman responsible for the ship’s electrics and part of the torpedo party.
Following his Arctic service he found himself on Mediterranean convoys from Gibraltar to Malta on the light cruiser HMS Kenya.
“On our third convoy we were torpedoed by an Italian submarine which blew our bows off,” he said.
After makeshift repairs, the ship returned at slow speed to the UK.
She was berthed in South Shields where he met Jean, now 88, at a dance.
Mr Hopson was also involved in preparing bases for the North Africa landings and followed the campaign through Italy to Naples. He was destined for the Far East when hostilities ceased with the Japanese surrender and ended up in Australia.
Following the war, he resumed his electrical apprenticeship, gaining his Higher National and also trained as a draughtsman. An advertisement at Shell, Stanlow caught his eye and he moved to Ellesmere Port.
Grandson Paul Leadbetter points out the medal is available to all who served in the Arctic and believes it should be more widely advertised.
The Royal Naval Association explains it is available to surviving veterans and their next of kin.
The qualifying period is ‘service of any length’ recognising the severity of the conditions experienced by those who served in the Arctic.
Eligibility includes all who served north of the Arctic Circle including members of all three services as well as the Merchant Navy who crewed the supply ships.
Application forms are available from www.veterans-uk.info or by telephoning the MOD Medal Office on 08457 800 900.