War veteran receives medals 72 years after serving in the the Artic

Artic Veteran Paul Ashwell with his medals

Artic Veteran Paul Ashwell with his medals - Credit: Archant

A former serviceman has received a decoration 72 years after the event.

Artic Veteran Paul Ashwell in 1939, aged 16, dressed as a boy seaman

Artic Veteran Paul Ashwell in 1939, aged 16, dressed as a boy seaman - Credit: Archant

Former Royal Navy Petty Officer Paul Ashwell was given an Arctic Star decoration from the Government last month and also received the Ushakov Medal from the Russian Federation two weeks ago.

The medals are in recognition of his service in the freezing waters of the Arctic when aboard HMS Arethusa, which was accompanying supply convoys taking vital supplies to Russia during the war.

Mr Ashwell, who lives in Bedford Road, Letchworth GC, joined the navy as a boy of 15 but within 18 months found himself at war.

It was in 1941 that HMS Arethusa spent time off the coast of Iceland and the Faroe Islands in a bid to protect convoys from German attack.

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The 90-year-old helped escort two convoys to Murmansk while the Germans were in close proximity.

The same year Mr Ashwell was also involved with convoys to Malta, with the ship often attacked by German Stuka bombers.

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While on HMS Arethusa, he had an escape when a wave washed him overboard, only for another wave to return him to the deck.

He was transferred off HMS Arethusa just 24 hours before the ship was struck by an Italian aircraft’s torpedo, causing heavy casualties.

Speaking about the experience, Mr Ashwell said: “It’s difficult for anyone to understand just how cold it was on board ship in the Arctic and how treacherous the waters were. It was not uncommon for a lookout man to be found frozen to death on deck.

“If I had been a cat I certainly would have had a few of my nine lives.”

He went on to serve on various other ships in his career including HMS Virago, which in February 1946 he was charged with stopping refugees landing in Haifa and transferring them to internment camps.

Mr Ashwell was awarded six decorations during the war and has now received six since, including another medal from the Russian Federation.

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