Russia’s highest naval honour for convoy veterans

Eight veterans of the Russian Arctic convoys were presented with the Ushakov Medal – Russia’s highest naval honour for valour – at a ceremony in Inverness last Saturday.

A total of 214 medals were presented to veterans at civic ceremonies in Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow last week, after veteran William Shand of Nairn requested the medals be presented before Remembrance Sunday so that they could be worn for the annual commemoration. Other presentations across the UK – said to number 3,000 – started last May.

The veterans presented with medals in Inverness were: Cecil Miller, Skye; Reay Clarke of Edderton; David Craig from Kilmarnock, who is originally from Inverness; John Grigor and Lawrence Knowles, both Elgin; Alexander Manson, John O’Groats; Robert Muirhead, Pitlochry; and William Shand. Medals were also presented on behalf of deceased veterans Robert Fraser and William Ross.

Collecting the medal for William Ross was his great nephew, Donald Matheson of Inverasdale, who is the youngest member of the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Project committee. Mr Ross was originally from Evanton but after the war moved to Portree where he met his wife and started a joinery business. He lived on Skye for many years and was laterly in a nursing home in Invergordon, where he was presented with his Arctic Star last year. After his death in July he was buried on Skye.

The medals were presented by Consul General (Edinburgh), Andrey Pritsepov, who said: “On behalf of the President of the Russian Federation and the Russian people, I feel myself very honoured and privileged to present the Ushakov Medal to the Arctic Convoy Veterans here today when we celebrate a proud page in our common history.”

He went on to say that their courage is well remembered in Russia, with school children told about the convoys and most schools having a World War Two museum in which they are mentioned. Mr Pritsepov urged all those attending the ceremony to keep the veterans’ memory alive by telling future generations of their bravery and praised the efforts being made to that end by the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Project at Loch Ewe.

Prior to attending the Inverness ceremony, veteran David Craig attended a remembrance service at the Poolewe war memorial and laid a Merchant Navy wreath at the Russian Convoy Club memorial stone.
On receiving the Ushakov Medal, Mr Craig said: “I never expected to receive this honour. It’s amazing.

“I am honoured and privileged to be able to attend the Inverness presentation, no one can quite understand how much it means to me to receive such an award in my home town.”
Also attending the medal ceremony was Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Rob Gibson, who said he was honoured to be there.

“It is always humbling to meet veterans and especially those who took part in the Arctic Convoys. It is well known Churchill called them the worst journey in the world. However it is only by speaking to the veterans that you understand what that actually means. I pay tribute to the Russian Consul and his staff on making this ceremony happen before Remembrance Sunday. The medals shows the esteem that the Russians still hold for those that took part in the convoys.

“I have had a long affinity with the convoys. Many started in Wester Ross and it was great to get the Arctic Convoy museum up and running at Inverasdale School on the shores of Loch Ewe. The convoys are a story sacrifice and fortitude in the face of extreme danger from the elements and the enemy and as such should never be forgotten.”

Pictured (in the back row) are John Grigor, Robert Muirhead, William Shand, Provost of Inverness Alex Graham, Consul General of Russia in Edinburgh, Andrey Pritsepov. Front row, Alexander Manson, Lawrence Knowles, David Craig, Reay Clarke and Cecil Miller.