Russia says thank you to Corby veterans of Arctic Convoys

Eric Drayton and John Morris with the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko
Eric Drayton and John Morris with the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko

Two 93-year-old veterans of the Second World War’s Arctic Convoys were presented with medals at a ceremony at the Russian Embassy in London in recognition of their courage.

Eric Drayton, of Seaton Crescent, Corby, and John Morris of Chase Close, Stanion, received their Ushakov medals from Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to Britain.

Both men took part in the convoys, described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”, escorting ships carrying vital supplies to the cities of Murmansk and Archangel.

Thanks to teamwork by members of the Corby branch of the Royal Naval Association, including treasurer Gareth Price and vice-chairman Brian Antrobus, Eric and John were able to attend the medal ceremony at Kensington Palace Gardens on August 19.

They applied to the Russians on the pair’s behalf for the medals, and the request was eventually granted,

Mr Drayton, who joined the crew of the cruiser Cumberland in 1941 and served as a stocker until 1943, said: “The memories I have are of the ice and the terrible weather.

“We were sitting targets for the aircraft and the U-boats. I was in my 20s so I didn’t think about the danger. I’m very proud to receive the medal.”

Mr Morris, who was accompanied by his wife Sylvia to the medal presentation ceremony, served as a leading supply assistant on the destroyer Walker for six months in 1944, aged just 23.

He said: “We encountered cold, stormy weather and on one occasion we were hit by a gale off the Faroe Islands. I’ve never been so frightened in my life. There was great camaraderie on the ship and it was a job we wanted to do. I’m very proud and honoured to receive the Ushakov medal.”

Mr Drayton and Mr and Mrs Morris were escorted to London by Mr Price and Mr Antrobus and, after the ceremony, the party enjoyed a reception at the embassy.

The Ushakov medals were handed over by the ambassador in a presentation case, complete with a copy of his speech and a potted history of the military honour.

It was only last year that the British Government changed the rules, allowing British nationals to accept and wear the Ushakov medal.

Presenting them, Mr Yakovenko praised Mr Drayton and Mr Morris, and other ex-servicemen receiving their awards, for their heroism and bravery.

Between August 1941 and the end of the war, 78 convoys made the journey to and from north Russia, carrying four million tons of supplies for Soviet forces fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front.