From Russia with thanks: Northampton sailor Jim awarded medal for Arctic missions

Jim Hemmington with his Medal of Ushakov
Jim Hemmington with his Medal of Ushakov

A Northampton Royal Navy veteran has been awarded a Russian military medal as a token of gratitude for his service on Arctic convoy duties during World War II.

Jim Hemmington, 94, was a first-class stoker on HMS Howe and HMS Bentinck during two spells escorting the Merchant Navy from the United States to Russia in 1942 and 1944.

The medal was hand delivered by a member of the Russian embassy

The medal was hand delivered by a member of the Russian embassy

Unaware the Russian Federation was giving out the medals, Mr Hemmington only found out about the initiative while watching the news.

He said: "I didn’t know anything about it until I saw on the television that it was being presented to a number of Royal Navy and Merchant Navy personnel.

"So I made inquiries, I wrote to the Russian embassy and they looked into it.

"They checked my details and I finally got it."

Jim Hemmington married his wife Eileen in 1944.

Jim Hemmington married his wife Eileen in 1944.

Two weeks ago Vadim Retyunskiy of the embassy showed up to Mr Hemmington's home in Kings Heath with the Medal of Ushakov, named in honour of Russian admiral Fyodor Ushakov who never lost a battle and was proclaimed patron saint of the Russian Navy.

"I am really proud," said Mr Hemmington.

"The family came round and took a look at the medal. It was fabulous."

During World War II the Royal Navy was tasked with protecting supply ships loaded with vital cargo destined for use by Russian troops in their fight against Germany.

“Our cargo ranged from tanks to 'fold-up' planes, to everything that is needed in the battlefield," explained Mr Hemmington, who was called up at the age of 18 in 1941, after volunteering a year prior when he was 17.

"And Russia was needing them because they were being cut off from all the supply areas.

"It was vital work, but we didn’t realise at the time.”

He added: "I was stationed all over really but I was awarded the medal because of what we did in Arctic waters.

"Our job was mainly to escort the convoys from America across the north Atlantic to Murmansk in Russia with supplies.

"It was a continuous effort all round, right through the war."

This is what has come to be known as the Battle of the Atlantic, known as the longest battle of WWII due to the fact it spanned the duration of the conflict from 1939 to 1945.

Mr Hemmington's role on the ship was to stoke the oil boilers in order to keep the engines running, which would dictate the vessel's speed.

"I was in the warm part of the ship," said Mr Hemmington, whose counterparts on the upper deck would, at the opposite end of the scale, face temperatures up to 50 degrees below freezing.

"It was unbearable at times but thank goodness it wasn't a coal fire."

Due to his station in the lower part of the ship, Mr Hemmington did not see the conflict taking place on the Arctic seas, nor was he allowed to spend time up above on the orders of his superiors.

"You had a job to tell what was going on actually when you’re stuck down there at the bottom of the ship because they didn’t tell you anything, you had to surmise what was happening," he said.

"We weren't allowed on the deck of the ship.

"If we went up to get fresh air in between shifts, we were ordered to get down below on the loudhailer. Somebody would spot us and scream 'get down below'!"

After the war, Mr Hemmington returned to his wife and childhood sweetheart Eileen in Northampton, whom he had married at Dallington Church in 1944.

The couple grew up on neighbouring streets in Northampton after Mr Hemmington's family moved from Carlisle when he was two years old.