Newham’s Arctic Convoys heroes receive Russia’s highest naval medal for bravery
- Credit: Archant
Nearly 70 years after the end of the Second World War, British sailors who braved German attacks and bitter cold on Arctic convoys have been honoured. Here we tell the stories of two east London heroes.
They were among a total of nearly 3,000 British veterans due to receive the Russian state award of the Ushakov medal, Russia’s highest naval state award for bravery, following a presidential decree signed by the Russian President on March 10 2014.
Among the 19 heros who were reunited with former Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and Russian Navy shipmates during a ceremony on board HMS Belfast recently (May 9) were Arthur Lauricks, 91, and Alan Florence, both from East Ham.
Arthur Lauricks, who was born at the old East Ham Hospital, recalls that he received his call-up papers when he was about 18 or 19-years-old.
He said: “I must have been about 19 or 20 when I joined. As soon asI ahd my training I remember I had a few dyas of leave and reporting to Chatham. Straight away I was sent to Southampton, a place called Woolston, where Thornycrofts (warship manufacturer) were completing a destroyer.
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“It wasn’t completed by then but I served on that destroyer, HMS Orwell until the end of the war.
“I completed 18 convoys including the Battle of the Barents Sea.
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“It was freezing and if you were on the gun crew you had to keep turning it every direction because otherwise it would freeze up.
“It was an adventure being on the convoys because life was a bit run of the mill with jobs in those days so I would say I enjoyed my service.
Arthur said he was pleased to receive the Ushakov medal which served as recognition from the Russian people.
Eugene Kasevin, who organised the event, said: “The Arctic Convoys is one of the most glorious chapters of the Second World War and we will continue revealing the untold story filled with selfless courage and bond of comradeship.”
During the ceremony, the nineteen British veterans of the Arctic Convoys were awarded the Ushakov medal, which was introduced by the Soviet Government in March 1944 as the highest naval bravery award. Admiral Ushakov was the 18th century Russian naval commander, whose military operations are still carefully studied in naval academies worldwide. In the course of 43 naval battles under Ushakov’s command he did not lose a single ship and never lost a battle.
The hero veterans of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy were reunited with their Russian Navy shipmates on board HMS Belfast to celebrate their joint Victory and to commemorate their absent friends.
The ceremony was attended by distinguished guests, including the former head of the British armed forces Lord David Richards and the Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties Rt. Hon Simon Hughes MP.
In their speeches, Lord Richards and Simon Hughes stressed the particular importance of the event in support of the memory of the British and Russian Arctic Convoy heroes, focusing on the incredible contribution from the Russian people in the victory over fascism.
The traditional Pusser’s Rum ‘Up Spirits!’ and Russian Standard Vodka ‘To Victory!’ toasts followed the minute’s silence with 11 salutes from HMS Belfast 4-inch guns in honour of the Arctic Convoy heroes.
A variety performance by British and Russian musicians commemorating the extraordinary contribution made by British and Russian sailors in the treacherous conditions of the Arctic Convoys 1941-1945 brought the day’s events to a close.