A PENSIONER from Doncaster is one of only 200 remaining British veterans who will be receiving a new medal awarded for his service on the Arctic convoys during the Second World War.
Frank Garbutt, aged 90, is delighted to finally receive recognition for a campaign that Winston Churchill memorably described as ‘the most dangerous journey in the world’.
Frank, of Coronation Court, Mexborough, already has an impressive array of medals from his four years in the Royal Navy.
He plans to proud pin the latest addition on his chest if he is fit enough to attend this year’s Remembrance Day service.
After many years of fighting for what they believed they deserved, Frank and about 200 other surviving veterans are finally to receive a newly-minted Arctic Star.
Thousands more either perished in the icy waters of the north-east Atlantic or have succumbed to old age without getting the recognition Frank says they should have had much sooner.
Between 1942 and 1944, dozens of convoys of merchant ships, escorted by Royal Navy warships, were sent into the Arctic Circle to transport vital supplies such as food, weapons, aircraft, ammunition and medicines to the Soviet Union after the Nazis invaded.
Some historians say the importance of the convoys has been under-estimated, because they kept the Russians in the war when Britain was still in danger of losing it.
Frank, a sailor on the escort carrier HMS Activity, had to run the gauntlet of German bombers and U-boats as well as contending with mountainous seas and numbingly cold weather.
He completed two Arctic convoys between January and April 1944, with 30-40 ships in each.
“We were at action stations all the time,” recalls Frank. “The weather was terrible, with huge waves. The nearest ship might be only 150 yards away but you would just see a little mast coming up every so often because the waves were so big.
“It was so cold and there was ice everywhere. You dared not touch anything metal on deck or your skin would stick and be torn off. I got frostbite on my neck because it was so cold. I’ve never known anything like it.”
After the Communist regime was toppled in the 1980s the Russian Federation presented Frank and the other veterans with a succession of medals for their contribution to the Soviet war effort.
Frank reflects: “I am proud of what I did because it was so important because we kept Russia in the war.
“All we have been allowed to wear on parades is a small lapel badge. That is why I am so grateful we are to receive the Arctic Star after I contacted my MP about it. They should have been issued at the time. It was one of the most hazardous campaigns of the war and it’s about time, it was obviously a political decision during the Cold War.
“I’d given up because I didn’t think it would ever happen but I am really disappointed that out of all those thousands on the convoys there’s only a few of us left now to receive the medal.”
The new medal has been welcomed by Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband, who said: “Mr Garbutt risked his life to help supply one of Britain’s wartime allies. Ultimately his actions – and those of his many comrades – helped defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime and liberate millions of people across Europe. He is a war hero.
“The Arctic Star will truly recognise the bravery displayed by all the sailors who endured hellish experiences in horrendous conditions while fighting for freedom in the Second World War. And Mr Garbutt certainly deserves that recognition.”