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Blind WW2 Arctic Convoy veteran presented with Russian Ushakov Medal

Date
3 February 2015 15:55

A World War II veteran has finally been awarded a medal recognising his bravery over 70 years ago.

Gerard Grant, 91, from Lytham St Annes, was presented with the Ushakov Medal, awarded to sailors who have displayed courage in the course of defending Russia or its interests, because of his role in what has become known as the "Arctic Convoys" of World War II.

He served as a Petty Officer of the Watch in Naval Communications throughout the war, including on the HMS Jamaica Cruiser as part of the Arctic Convoy. After joining the Navy at 16, he celebrated his 21st birthday on one of the many trips around the Arctic.

Mr Grant was awarded the medal last year but was unable to attend to receive it in person. He instead asked Blind Veterans UK, a military charity that has supported him for the last 15 years, to collect the medal on his behalf.

After collecting the medal from the Russian Embassy in London, the Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, and a retired Major General in the British Army, presented Gerry with the award at his home on Tuesday.

Until 2013, the Foreign Office did not allow Russia to honour veterans like Gerry as it broke the rules on foreign medals.

The Arctic Convoy was made up of vessels which travelled from Britain to Russia to keep the Soviet Union supplied with vital goods and weapons during World War II.

The Arctic route that ships like Gerry's took was described by Churchill as the "worst journey in the world" and, by the end of the war, more than 100 ships and 3000 allied seamen were lost.

Gerry has received support from Blind Veterans UK since 2001 after losing his sight overnight due to what is known as an "eye stroke".

The charity has provided him with vital training and equipment to allow him to continue living as independently as possible. Gerry also lived at one of Blind Veterans UK's centres in Brighton for five years.  

Gerry said: "Churchill's description of the journey was exactly right. It was the toughest challenge of my life. The ships could get very iced up at times and that could lead to them getting top-heavy. We also had the constant threat of German U-Boats.

"I'm so pleased that Major General Caplin presented me with this medal. Blind Veterans UK has been such a help to me since I lost my sight.  I don't know where I would be without them.

"It is an honour to receive this award.  After the war, a lot of the group that made up the Arctic Convoy formed the 'North Russia Club'.  I was wearing my club tie when I was presented with the medal and I was collecting it on behalf of all of them, many of whom are sadly no longer here to pick up their own."

Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan's) is the national organisation for vision impaired ex-service men and women, and believes that no one who has served our country should battle blindness alone. The charity provides blind and vision impaired ex-service men and women with lifelong support including welfare support, rehabilitation, training, residential and respite care.

Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, said: "It is only right that the brave Arctic Convoy veterans like Gerry should be recognised for the incredible sacrifice they made in World War II.

"The influence of those valiant sailors cannot be overstated, which is obviously why the Russian embassy still wishes to recognise the bravery they showed after 70 years.

"It is a great honour for Blind Veterans UK to play a part in Gerry's special day."

Blind Veterans UK  has launched its No One Alone campaign which aims to reach out to the estimated 68,000 plus ex-Service personnel who could be benefiting from the charity's services but, either do not know about the charity, or do not know that they are eligible for its services.

If you are or know of a veteran with vision impairment, go to: www.noonealone.org.uk or telephone: 0800 389 7979.