Russia salutes Prestbury’s Arctic Convoy hero

Prestbury’s Arctic Convoy hero, Tom Robinson, was among those World War Two veterans honoured last month by the Russian government, writes Barry Hook. Along with other veterans who risked their lives serving on naval convoys delivering much needed food, fuel and armaments to Russia during the Second World War, Mr Robinson was presented with the Ushakov Medal by the Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko at a special ceremony in Manchester Town Hall.

Tom proudly displays his Artic Convoy medal Tom proudly displays his Artic Convoy medal

Speaking on behalf of the Russian government, the ambassador thanked the veterans of the Arctic Convoys for their invaluable contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany. “Their heroism will always be remembered in Russia and Britain, while their deeds will continue to serve as the supreme expression of bravery and a high point in human spirit,” he said.

The convoys, which had to run a gauntlet of German warplanes and U-boats in the deadly cold waters of the Arctic, between 1941 and 1945 allowed Russian soldiers to defeat the Germans on the Eastern Front.

As well as the constant attacks by the Luftwaffe and German Navy, the convoys also had to deal with severe cold, arctic storms and ice floes.

Prime minister, at the time, Winston Churchill, famously described the Arctic missions as being ‘the worst journey on earth’.

Tom, who was a civil servant with the Admiralty when he was called-up, served as a wireless telegraphist on the destroyer, HMS Forester earning two shillings a day (10p).

“We made two and a half escort journeys,” recalls Tom. “The half journey was when we were hit three times in the No1 boiler room and on two of our guns. The ship was brought to a standstill and on fire.

“We lost our commanding officer and 12 ratings with another 9 ratings injured as we limped into Murmansk for emergency repairs.”

As soon as the Forester was sea-worthy again it was despatched to join another convoy. Alongside the cruiser HMS Trinidad, the convoy came under persistent bombing from German aircraft.

“The Trinidad was hit and set on fire,” recalls Tom. “It soon became obvious that it was out of control and would have to be abandoned. I cannot think of a worse sight than a ship on fire at sea, especially in those freezing seas.

“We picked-up as many survivors as we could and we landed them at Scapa. En route, when we were not on duty, we used to take it in turns to sit and comfort the wounded.

“Russia has always been grateful for the contribution we made to their war effort and the Arctic convoys are part of the teaching in Russian schools.”

More than 3,000 British naval and merchant seamen died on the convoys. Around 120 naval and merchants ships were destroyed.

Mr Robinson, a widower, was accompanied on his visit to Manchester Town Hall by his youngest daughter, Anita and one of his grandsons, Edward.

Tom is president of Prestbury Gardening Club, a member of Prestbury Probus 91 and of the Prestbury branch of the British Legion. Last year, he was presented with the Arctic Star medal by the British government in honour of his service in the Arctic.

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