Russians honour the valour and courage of Arctic Convoy veteran

Seamen breaking ice off a ship's superstructure.
Seamen breaking ice off a ship's superstructure.

Ninety-one-year-old Stonehaven man and Arctic Convoy veteran, George Leiper (right), proudly wears his Russian Ushakov Medal.

The medal, awarded to the veterans of the convoys ‘for personal courage and valour’ shown during World War Two, was presented to him on Saturday, November 8.

A seaman chipping ice on board ship.

A seaman chipping ice on board ship.

The ceremony took place at Aberdeen Town House and the award was presented by the Consul General of the Russian Federation on behalf of their president, Vladimir Putin.

The Medal of Ushakov is one of the most highly esteemed military awards in Russia and one of the most important Russian naval decorations, presented for exceptional valour in combat.

Initially a Soviet military award, created on March 3, 1944, by decision of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, it was named in honour of Russian Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, who never lost a battle and was proclaimed patron saint of the Russian Navy.

The medal was awarded to sailors and soldiers, petty officers and sergeants, ensigns and warrant officers of the Soviet Navy, Naval Infantry and naval units of KGB Border Troops.

Close up of the Arctic Convoys Ushakev Medal.

Close up of the Arctic Convoys Ushakev Medal.

It was given for courage and bravery displayed both in wartime and peacetime, during the defence of the Soviet Union in naval theatres, while protecting the maritime borders of the USSR, during military duties with a risk to life.

In 2013, the Ushakov Medal was made exception to British government rules against medals given by other countries, and nearly 600 UK seamen have since received the award.

The solid sterling silver medal is not a commemorative award, like the Arctic Star, which Mr Leiper also possesses, but an award for bravery which may be fairly described as the Russian equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Royal Navy veteran Mr Leiper, a leading stoker on board the famous HMS Whimbrel, travelled in convoy to Murmansk in 1943 and 1944, in what Winston Churchill described as ‘the worst journey on earth.’

The cities of Murmansk and Archangel have commemorative statues to those who took part in the convoys and St Petersburg has recently unveiled another.

This critical time in the history of Russia is taught extensively in their schools and Consul General, Andrey Pritsepov, said: “The Ushakov Medal is one of Russia’s most important naval awards.

‘‘It is presented only to those who demonstrated courage in sea warfare.

“These medals are well-deserved by the Scottish veterans of the Arctic Convoys, who sailed alongside our fathers and grandfathers on extremely dangerous missions and returned home victorious against all odds.”

Accompanied by Marjory, his wife of 66 years and a Stonehaven born-and-bred former WREN, as well as other family members, George was ‘exceptionally proud’ to add to his medal collection at Aberdeen Town House.

His daughter, Margaret Clark, said: “The Russian’s did everything incredibly well and couldn’t have been kinder to Mum, Dad, my brother and myself.

‘‘The consul explained that, without the convoys, Russia would never have been able to defeat the Germans on the Eastern Front.

‘‘The Lord Provost was there, as well as a high-ranking representative of the British Navy, and the whole event was finished off with a glass of good Russian vodka!”

Everyone here at the Leader would also like to raise a glass and propose a toast to this exceptional man: George Leiper, local hero!