8:35am Monday 7th May 2012
By Mike Laycock
HE survived 40ft waves, torpedo attacks and savagely cold weather during three years serving on Britain’s Arctic convoys to Russia.
Now the Russian Federation is set to recognise the bravery and courage of Bill Sunderland and his Royal Navy comrades during the Second World War.
The 86-year-old widower, from Foxwood Lane, York, who served on board the destroyer HMS Serapis, has received a letter from the Russian Embassy, saying the Federation wants to award him the Ushakov medal in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to the allied co-operation” during the conflict.
It said the president of the Russian Federation would sign a decree prior to Victory Day on Wednesday.
Mr Sunderland was delighted to receive news he would be awarded the medal, which was created in 1994 by the Russian president, saying: “I feel quite honoured.”
But he said that he and other convoy veterans were still waiting for any recognition of their efforts by the British Government, despite a lengthy campaign for it to make an award.
The father-of-two, who worked for York printers Ben Johnson after the war, told about the extraordinarily tough conditions he and the other men endured during the convoys, which were organised to take food, weaponry and other vital supplies to Russia as it fought the Germans in the east.
Torpedo attacks and bombing raids fortunately missed the ship, and the worst enemy was probably the weather.
“It could be atrocious,” he said. “The cold was so severe that the spray would freeze in the air and tiny shards cut any part of your face that was not covered up,” he said. “Your hand would stick to metal if you weren’t wearing gloves.
“The rails, and guns, and anchor chains would be covered in ice two inches thick, which would weigh down the front of the ship, and seamen would go out and chip away at it.”
On one convoy in 1944, he went through the “great storm,” considered to be the worst weather conditions ever encountered by a convoy, when a Force 12 gale whipped up 40ft waves which would tower high above his ship, and then the ship’s “screws” would come out of the water and the vessel would shudder.
“It was very, very frightening,” he said.
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