Honour at last for George Barker, Hull veteran of Second World War Arctic Convoys
WAR veteran George Barker will at last be honoured by the Government for risking his life during the Second World War – but he says the medal comes 70 years too late.
Mr Barker was one of the 66,000 sailors and merchant seamen who ran the gauntlet of Nazi planes and U-boats on the Arctic Convoys.
They ferried arms and supplies from the UK to Russia between August 1941 and 1945, braving sub-zero temperatures.
Their first official recognition came this week when Prime Minister David Cameron announced an Arctic Convoy Star medal.
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It followed a long public campaign and a promise Mr Cameron made before he was elected.
Mr Barker, 88, of James Reckitt Avenue, Hull, said: "Almost 70 years we've been fighting for this medal.
"I'll wear it but the only thing is, so many of us have died.
"After such a long time, so many of my friends have crossed the bar.
"I've known some really good shipmates who were anxious to receive their recognition but now it's too late."
News of the Arctic Convoy Star was revealed to Parliament by Mr Cameron, who said a review by the former diplomat Sir John Holmes, who was asked to look at rules on military decorations, had concluded the Arctic veterans should have their own medal.
Mr Cameron said: "Sir John has recommended, and I fully agree, that there will be an Arctic Convoy Star medal.
"I am very pleased some of the brave men of the Arctic Convoys will get the recognition they so richly deserve for the very difficult work they did."
The Arctic Convoys are credited with having played an important role in buoying Russia as Hitler mounted an invasion.
The supplies helped the Red Army to push back against the Nazis, but this effort came at a cost.
More than 3,000 seamen were killed during 78 convoys that delivered four million tons of cargo. Eight-five merchant ships and 16 Royal Navy vessels were destroyed. It is thought 66,500 men sailed on the convoys, but only 200 are alive today.
Mr Barker was only 17 when he signed up and so lied about his age.
He said: "In 1941, all my mates had gone in the army so that's what I wanted to do.
"I went into the recruiting office in Hull and just put another year on my date of birth. They didn't ask any questions."
The veteran believes he is one of only two Arctic Convoy merchant seamen still alive in Hull.
He said: "The other one is Les Colyer, of Frome Road. I've been trying to get in touch with him.
"There's one lady who's a very good friend of my wife. Her husband was on the convoys but he's no longer with us.
"They don't award the medals to the widows and I feel sorry for her because she would love to have one for her husband."
Veterans will not be able to receive their medals immediately. The Ministry of Defence has to draw up eligibility criteria before it will award the decorations and that could take months.
Yesterday it was revealed Russian officials had recently delivered medals to Hull war veterans.
Mr Barker is not one of those to have yet received the prestigious Ushakov medal but he was visited by Russian officials who told him he "had not been forgotten".
Like other Arctic Convoy veterans, he has been sent medals from Russia marking the passage of time since the war.
He said: "It just shows you what the Russians think of us.
"It meant a lot to them, what we did."
Regardless of the 70-year wait, Mr Barker, says he will be proud to wear his Arctic Star medal.
He said: "I shall definitely wear it on special occasions.
"My other medals, the Atlantic Star and my Russian medals, are on my blazer."