An Eyemouth man has been honoured for his wartime valour in the Arctic Convoys of World War Two, over 70 years ago.
Norman Nicholls received the Ushakov Medal from Andrey Pritsepov, the Russian Consul General, in a ceremony held in Eyemouth on Monday.
Norman took part in three of the convoys, which transported vital supplies to Russia’s Arctic Circle ports, which were in danger of being blockaded.
The journey across the north Atlantic, patrolled by German U-Boats, was famously described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”.
Norman, at the time a new recruit to the Navy, was one of the first people to be trained in the use of radar.
This meant that while his convoy was being 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.
And once Norman’s ship got into port, he witnessed first hand the suffering in wartime Russia,as the Ulster Queen was frozen-in while docked in Murmansk.
He is quite frank about the sometimes surreal nature of what he saw.
“People in Britain, they don’t know what rationing is,” he said.
“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,” he said.
And Norman’s return journey was no less dangerous.
“We were lined up to leave,” recalls Norman, “when the Russian soldiers closed off everything, and loaded several crates onto our ship.”
They held £26m in gold bullion, vital funds that Norman helped bring back to Britain.
The Ushakov Medal, named after Russia’s most acclaimed Navy Commander Fyodor Ushakov, was established in 1944,
It is especially for those who demonstrated courage and prowess in sea warfare. The eighteenth century Russian hero Ushakov never lost a battle, and was proclaimed the Patron Saint of the Russian Navy.
According to the State Decorations Regulation of the Russian Federation, the medal is awarded to personnel of the Navy and Border Guard Service of the Russian Federation for courage displayed while “defending the Motherland”.
The medal is also sometimes awarded for excellent performance in naval combat training.
Consul General Andrey Pritsepov stressed the bravery of the convoys: “It is important that people know that this medal is being given for valour and not just for service.”