Arctic Convoys veteran will get medal for bravery

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A NAVAL veteran who survived the Arctic Convoys of the Second World War said he was “very surprised” to learn he will soon get Russian bravery medal.

William Hastie, 90, is in line to receive the Ushakov Medal after getting a letter from the Russian Embassy.

William Hastie and wife Nan. Picture: Esme Allen

William Hastie and wife Nan. Picture: Esme Allen

The great-grandad of 12 – who only received the British campaign medal the Arctic Star a few weeks ago – took part in two convoys aboard the HMS Fury.

The UK Government is now allowing veterans to collect the medal after previously saying it broke rules as they had already received a medal for their ­service.

Submarine spotter Willie was part of a fleet of Royal Navy craft protecting a convoy of merchant ships carrying essential war supplies to the Soviet Union in what Winston Churchill described as “the worst journey in the world”.

Willie, from Barnton, said he still remembers the voyages in 1942 and 1943, departing from Loch Ewe and arriving at the Kola Inlet near Murmansk about ten days later.

He said: “The main thing I remember is that they were cold, bitterly cold. If you fell in the water you wouldn’t have long to get out again.

“It was so cold that you would have to chip the ice from the ship or it would capsize. It got so heavy and clogged up.”

In 1940, Willie left his job at Haymarket as an apprentice engine cleaner and joined the navy.

He spent six years in service, writing to his sweetheart, Nan, now 87, who he met while he was docked in Leith. The couple married in 1945 and ran Honey’s Boutique on Easter Road and a second shop in Newington, retiring in 2000.

Hearts fan Willie was presented with the Arctic Star after neighbour Les Daighton, 86, read about the honour and persuaded him to apply for it.

Lothians war veteran Harry “Jock” Dempster, who ­campaigned ferociusly for the medals, died in May, aged 85, following a stroke.

Now, following the government U-turn, Willie and other survivors in the Capital, are set to be decorated with the Russian honour.

Willie said: “I didn’t expect it but I am delighted they think I deserve one. I am just happy I made it back from the 
convoys.

“I was very lucky. I survived and went on to have a happy life with my family, when there were many who didn’t.”

Honour after Westminster u-turn

Russia wanted to award the Ushakov Medal to Britain’s Arctic Convoy veterans as a symbol of the country’s gratitude in May.

The Foreign Office initially blocked the move as it said it would break the rules surrounding acceptance of medals.

But, after a public backlash, the government body did a U-turn and welcomed the bravery award. More than 3000 men died in the freezing waters of the Arctic in the convoys, as the British transported supplies to their allies in the Soviet Union as part of Operation Dervish.

Kevin Gray, chief executive of the Royal British Legion Scotland, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the bravery is being recognised.”