Stevenage man, 90, awarded Arctic Star for World War II services
- Credit: Archant
A man who celebrated his 90th birthday on Sunday has received an Arctic Star medal for his service in the Royal Navy during World War II.
Eric Atkins, who now lives at the Roebuck Nursing Home on London Road in Stevenage, was a telegrapher on 10 ships on North Sea and Arctic convoys between October 1942 and August 1946, including the HMS Westcott from July 1943 to May 1945.
His niece, Pauline Manley, said: “This is the ship he talks about and loves, even though he and his comrades must have gone through hell.
“The HMS Westcott was part of the Russian convoys travelling from Loch Ewe in Scotland to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk [in Russia] – a perilous journey of 1,600 miles, past enemy-held shores in Norway.
“The convoys were carrying vital munitions and supplies to Russia so that the Red Army could continue the fight against Nazi Germany.
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“They endured intense cold, 40ft waves and freezing seas, with a constant fear of torpedo attacks or bombing warplanes.”
Mr Atkins now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, but his bunk mate and best friend aboard the HMS Westcott, Clifford Fairweather, recalls some of their memories from the war.
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“We were the lucky ones,” he said.
“Our ship wasn’t sunk but a lot of them didn’t make it.
“But we had rough times. There were rough seas, snow and ice – lying in your hammock with ice banging off the side of the ship and there was only 3/8 of an inch of steel between you and the ice.
“Any lad that went overboard into the sea had little hope of surviving. It was so cold, the shock killed them.
“There was a ship in front of us and it got torpedoed. There were some Russians on board – they were being transported to England to pick up a ship to take back to Russia.
“The ship broke in half – one half was still afloat. Americans were jumping overboard and the Russians tried to stop them.”
Mr Fairweather also recalls one Christmas at sea when he and his comrades had “nothing but dry biscuits to eat”.
Mr Atkins celebrated his 90th birthday with a party at the Roebuck Nursing Home on Friday.