Norman a veteran of three Arctic convoys
An Eyemouth resident who sailed on three Arctic convoys during World War Two is looking forward to belated recognition of his efforts.
Norman Nicholls was one of the first people in Britain trained to use radar - a new device that was being kept top secret in 1941, when he joined the navy.
This meant that while his convoy, taking vital supplies to Russian ports in the Arctic Circle, was strafed by German aircraft, he was in the bowels of HMS Ulster Queen, watching them approach on his monitor, trying to direct the ships’ guns.
A new medal, the Arctic Star, has been approved by the Government for those who risked one of the most dangerous sea crossings in history.
“I’m not all that fussed about the medal itself,” said Norman, “but with it you get this beautiful white beret, which sadly you have to pay for, and I’m interested in getting one of those.”
Being on the convoys didn’t just mean constant danger at sea: Norman was granted a rare view of how Russia coped with the privations of a blockade.
He is quite frank about what he saw: “People in Britain, they don’t know what rationing is. People in Murmansk would line up every day for their rations. All they got was a bit of cabbage leaf, a scrap of meat and some black bread, which was so rough that it had chopped-up straw in it.”
But there were also lighter moments. Norman recalls seeing collections of priceless Russian art that were sent on tour around the country as part of a programme to entertain and educate the troubled population.
“I also went to the ballet for the first time, seeing some of the great dancers of the time.”
And after being hunted by U-boats and frozen-in at Murmansk, the return journey was no less intense.
“We’re lined up to leave,” recalls Norman, “when the Russian soldiers close off everything, and loaded several crates onto our ship.”
They held £26m in gold bullion, vital funds that Norman helped bring back to Britain.
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Weather for Duns
Friday 24 May 2013
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