A Second World War navy veteran who sailed through treacherous seas to escort vital supplies to Russia has been awarded the Arctic Star.
John Dunn, 91, served as a radar operator on the destroyer ship Obedient after being mobilised aged 18.
For four years the ship with its crew of 220 men sailed in convoys between the UK and Russia under the constant threat of torpedoes from German U-boats, crashing waves, freezing conditions and bad food – yet John considers himself lucky, because so many perished.
He said: “The weather was atrocious – rain, snow, ice and gales. At times the ice was so bad, you had to chop it off the ship. The gales were so bad that the chefs couldn’t cook – they were worried the pots would come off the stove.
“There was not much warm clothing. We were issued anoraks and so-called waterproof trousers. You’d put them on and then when you changed over, the next man put them on. There was a very big shortage of warm clothing..
John said the atmosphere on the ship was very busy.
He said: “Cigarettes were cheap so there was a lot of smoking. You couldn’t get the BBC station – we were too far away – so the only music was records; the music of the time.
“We slept in hammocks, which were very good. It was very crowded and when the ship moved, the hammocks moved with them; it was rather amusing.
“Ships were sunk every night. It was one of the most dangerous places in the world.
“You expect to go to action stations every night; sometimes twice. There was very little sleep.
“When you saw a light in the sky, you knew one of the ships had been torpedoed. But it becomes routine. You got so used to it that the only thing that was said would be ‘that’s another one gone’.
“Until you’ve seen it you can’t explain it.”
But there was fun to be had at the end of the war. John said he went to a black market in Germany two days after the war had ended, where a band was playing.
He said: “You weren’t supposed to fraternise with the Germans, but I just grabbed hold of a German girl and danced with her. I couldn’t stop myself because I love ballroom dancing.
“We danced the polka. It was my one moment of glory.”
John was presented with his medal by Spen MP Mike Wood.
The medal was issued this year to recognise army and navy service above the arctic circle, in particular personnel in the Arctic convoys.
He said he had never spoken about his experiences until recently, when his family asked him to write about them – and arranged for him to receive his medal, almost 70 years after the end of the war.