Arctic Convoy veteran to receive medal after waiting ‘far too long’
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 April 2013
A WELWYN Garden City veteran who served on one of the most inhospitable missions in World War Two will finally get a medal – 70 years after he signed up.
Ernest Payne, of Chequers, WGC, is eagerly anticipating delivery of the Arctic Star, for his service on the bitterly cold and highly dangerous Arctic Convoys.
The mission involved traversing inhospitable, U-boat-infested and ice-blasted seas to take vital supplies to the Russians.
Asked what it was like serving on the convoys, Mr Payne quipped: “Cold, very cold.
“At the moment in northern Russia it is minus 55 degrees, so that tells you how cold it was.”
Official government recognition follows years of campaigns for those who joined the convoys to be awarded a medal, and last week Prime Minister David Cameron apologised that it had taken so long.
Mr Payne, 86, told the WHT: “I’m waiting on this Arctic Star medal.
“I’m waiting for a reply on when I’m going to get it.”
Mr Payne and hundreds of other veterans of the convoys have been waiting 68 years for official recognition of their heroic feat.
Turning to his death-defying mission on HMS Zodiac, in April 1945, he said: “We were an escort destroyer that had to float between the ships to protect the merchant ships.”
Speaking about conditions aboard the Z-class Destroyer he said: “We didn’t get time to shower or anything, we were just too busy and it took about eight days to get there [northern Russia].
“The most frightening part was when were there [in port] waiting to come out and there were about 14 U-boats hanging about waiting for you to come out, especially when you heard a couple of explosions.”
He described the mission to supply arms to the hard-pressed Red Army, which was battling to push back the Nazis, as “running the gauntlet”.
Despite going to Russia he said he and other shipmates did not set foot on dry land, and he said he only saw “a woman and a dog” while he was there.
Asked whether the recognition for Arctic Convoy veterans was overdue, he said: “Yeah, far too long – half the people are not here any more.
“There are only between 200 and 400 of us alive, it should have been years ago.”
Mr Payne, who volunteered for military service when he was 17, also spoke movingly about how a comrade who enlisted with him fell.
“I lost a friend I joined up with.
“He went one way and I went another way.
“I was very sad, he was 18 at the time,” he said.
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