A WORLD War Two veteran who received the Medal of Ushakov for his role aboard the Arctic conveys has said it was a “wonderful surprise”.
Cyril Phillips, 89, who lives at our sheltered scheme Cotman Lodge in Chelmsford, Essex, was presented with the Medal of Ushakov by the Russian Ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, at a commemorative ceremony held at the Russian Embassy.
As a symbol of gratitude, the Medal of Ushakov is awarded on behalf of the Russian people to all of the Allied sailors who served on the Arctic convoys which transported supplies, cargo and ammunition to the Soviet Union during World War Two.
In 1943, as an 18-year-old, Cyril volunteered to join the Royal Navy and served as a stoker aboard the destroyer HMS Serapis.
“I wanted to be a gunner but they needed stokers,” said Cyril. “Basically my job involved ‘turning the tap and pulling the flap’ but at least it wasn’t cold in the boiler room unlike on deck.”
Described by Winston Churchill as the ‘worst journey in the world’, the Arctic convoys provided much needed supplies to northern Russia. Under constant threat of attack from German U-Boats and the Luftwaffe, the crews also had to fight the cold, pack ice and storms on the journey which saw the vessels - both Merchant Navy and Royal Navy - travel from Greenock in Scotland to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk.
“The journey would take around three weeks and the convoys were under constant threat from U-Boat attacks. We’d drop depth charges and when they went off they certainly made you jump. The U-boats would encircle the fleet and attack at night. I remember one night I came up from the boiler room for a cigarette and opened the door and saw a huge flash. I realised one of our ships had been hit,” commented Cyril.
After completing a convoy run, Cyril’s ship was ordered to dock in Egypt for repairs and Cyril was transferred to the cruiser HMS Superb.
“We thought we were going home but we then got orders to oil up and ammo up and sail to France where we were part of the line in the D-Day landings,” added Cyril. “We saved a lot of young men that day as our ship was tasked with evacuating wounded soldiers from the beaches.”
In 1946, Cyril was involved in the Corfu Straits incident after HMS Superb came under fire from fortifications on the Albanian coast.
“I don’t think anyone had told the Albanians that the war was over,” said Cyril. “In the night they mined the river and we couldn’t get out. The Royal Navy sent two destroyers to help us but they hit mines and had their bows blown off. We lost a lot of men that day.”
After leaving the Royal Navy in 1947, Cyril married Eileen - a friend of his cousins who he had previously met at a family gathering - on August 30th 1947 and later the couple had two children, Christopher and Vincent.
Following active service, Cyril returned to work at the Fairey Aviation Company in Middlesex - where he had worked as a 16-year-old before he enlisted - and helped build torpedo bomber planes, such as the Swordfish and the Albacore.
“The awards ceremony was a great and wonderful surprise,” added Cyril. “I thought they’d just post me the medal, I definitely didn’t expect to receive it from the Russian Ambassador. It was an absolutely lovely day with good food washed down with two shots of good Russian Vodka.”