A PAIR of brave war veterans from Hartlepool have finally been recognised for their efforts in the Arctic convoys which helped keep supply lines open during the Second World War.
Alex Kirk and Steve Pearson were among the 11 invited guests to receive the Arctic Star medal almost 70 years after they showed remarkable bravery risking their lives delivering food and supplies to Russia between 1941 and 1945.
Both served on the convoys between 1943 and 1944 and say they were “proud” to have finally been honoured.
More than 3,000 men died in the freezing waters of the Arctic as they worked to keep supplies flowing through German blockades to Britain’s ally, the Soviet Union.
The brave men faced attacks from U-boats and the mission to keep supply lines to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel open was described as the “worst journey in the world” by former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Mr Kirk, who is originally from Hamilton, in Scotland, but now lives in Hartlepool, served on two convoys in 1943 and 1944.
The 86-year-old said: “It is frustrating that we have all had to wait so long for a medal but it is a proud moment for everyone.”
Mr Pearson, was born in Hartlepool and now lives in the Park Road area, received his medal through the post yesterday morning ahead of the ceremony.
The 91-year-old, who served as an engineer with the Merchant Navy on two convoys, said: “It was certainly a tough time for everyone involved in the Arctic convoys.
“The civic reception was a proud moment though and it was nice to share some memories.
“It is nice to be recognised in this way.”
Surviving veterans and widows are among the first to receive the new Arctic Star medal after the Ministry of Defence finally agreed on a design, which was approved by The Queen.
It comes after Prime Minister David Cameron recommended the honours and decorations committee proceed with awarding the Arctic Star last December and families of those who served but have since died are also able to apply for the honour.
The civic reception, held at South Shields Town Hall yesterday, allowed former comrades to come together and tell wartime stories and remember fallen colleagues.
Dignitaries representing the Maritime and Armed Forces community were also invited.
Councillor Ernest Gibson, Mayor of South Tyneside, said: “Everyone owes their present day freedom to noble people like the Arctic Convoy veterans, and it is wonderful for them to be acknowledged for services to their country by Her Majesty the Queen.”
Presentations were made by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Tyne & Wear, Nigel Sherlock OBE, who said he was “honoured” to meet the brave men and their families.
Russia has previously wanted to present its own Ushakov Medal to Britons who had served on the convoys, but the move was blocked by the UK Foreign Office (FCO).
The British Government said its rules on foreign awards meant permission could not be granted if veterans had received or were expected to receive a UK medal for the same services.
The FCO said before the announcement of a specific award for the Arctic Convoys, all British veterans were eligible for the Atlantic Star.