Wednesday, 02 December 2015

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Medal at last

A Cumbrian veteran of the life-saving Arctic convoys during the Second World War has welcomed the news that those involved will get medals recognising their bravery.

The convoys ferried vital supplies to the Soviet Union during the war.

But the cost in human terms was immense, with more than 3,000 seamen killed during the 78 convoys that delivered food, fuel and munitions to Russia as the Red Army fought the invading Nazis.

Former Carlisle head teacher Joe Rawlings, 99, served in the Royal Navy as an air directions officer, guiding Allied planes as they hunted down enemy aircraft or dropped depth charges to destroy deadly German U-boats.

It was his job to monitor a radar screen, watching out for German planes and guiding fighters towards them.

Originally from Aspatria, he was summoned to Portsmouth for duty aboard HMS Hood – but his train got him there as the ship left harbour.

Weeks later, it was sunk by the German battleship Bismark, and all but three of the 1,400 crew died.

Speaking this week, Joe, who is best known for his work as headmaster of Eden School in Rickerby, Carlisle, played down his service, insisting he didn’t have a hard time.

“I was comfortable but there was a lot of mental anxiety,” explained Joe.

“Every time we shot down a German plane, I’d think to myself there were four or five mothers who had lost their sons, but it was war, and it was either them or us.

“I remember one occasion when I was flown down to Surrey to see the parents of two of our pilots who were killed. That was hard.”

Asked about the Government’s decision to award campaign medals, 67 years after the war ended, Joe said: “It’s come very late, but it’s right to give recognition to those people who lost their lives and to those who worked to ensure supplies got through. It was vital work.”

Joe’s teaching career spanned 40 years and he also served as a county commissioner for the Scouts.

He is now enjoying his retirement at his home in Lowry Hill, Carlisle.

David Cameron announced the Arctic Convoy medals decision after a long campaign led by 92-year-old Commander Eddie Grenfell, who said that as few as 200 of those who took part now remain alive.

Mr Cameron told the Commons: “I am very pleased that some of the brave men of the Arctic Convoys will get the recognition they so richly deserve for the very dangerous work that they did.”


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