Christina McKay remembers as if it were yesterday the day two Merchant Navy officers knocked on the door with the news her beloved older brother who was part of the wartime Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union was “missing presumed dead”.
But while Ian McCuaig did in fact survive, the modest hero died at the age of 51 so never claimed the Second World War medals he was later entitled to in recognition of his bravery.
Yesterday, his sister was presented with a grand total of five medals on his behalf by Lord Provost Donald Wilson at a ceremony at the City Chambers.
Mrs McKay, from Currie, received the Arctic Star – established in December 2012 for operational service north of the Arctic Circle following a 16-year long campaign by veterans. She was also presented with his other campaign medals, the 1939-45 Star, the War Medal, the Atlantic Star and Africa Clasp.
She was joined at the ceremony by her daughter and son-in-law, her son and daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and a neighbour.
But the story behind the glittering presentation also reveals Mrs McKay’s tenacity, helped by local councillor Dominic Heslop, in battling Whitehall bureaucracy to make sure her brother was honoured.
Sailors from the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy who formed the Arctic convoys delivered vital supplies via the Arctic to the Soviet Union, and were often under attack from German U-boats and the Luftwaffe. Prime Minister Winston Churchill described their voyages as “the worst journey[s] in the world.”
Mrs McKay said: “Ian was seven years older than me and he was called up to fight for his country. He used to come home in his uniform and impress all the girls. He wrote my mother letters telling her he’d make her proud and bring back ribbons from Russia for my hair.
“I had three brothers and two sisters and we lived in a room and kitchen in Partick, in Glasgow. We all cried that day we thought he was dead. But Ian did come home. We were so happy he was safe. Then, when he was 51, he died after a fall.”
After seeing a news item about the decision to belatedly award veterans the Arctic Star, Mrs McKay began her quest. Mr Heslop, Conservative member for Pentland Hills, said: “She’s a remarkable woman. She was getting passed from pillar to post trying to do the right thing for her brother.
“We contacted the National Archive to find her brother’s old war records and Mrs McKay looked out old letters with vital information proving where he was. But the Ministry of Defence said we had to contact the Seafarers’ Association in Cardiff. It wasn’t straightforward and we got a lot of contradictory information including a terrible moment being told he wasn’t entitled to the medal and then that he was.
“I was so delighted to be able to help her get recognition for her brother. This is a special day for her.”