Medals For Heroes

 

Russia Honours Arctic Convoy Veterans

FOUR IRISH veterans of the Arctic convoys which helped bring supplies to the Soviet Union during the second World War were yesterday presented with medals of honour on behalf of the Russian people.

The men, or their next-of-kin, were presented with the 65th Anniversary Medal of the Great Patriotic War 1941-45 by Mikhail E Timoshkin, ambassador of the Russian Federation, at a ceremony at the Russian embassy in Dublin.

Ted Jones, from Clontarf in Dublin, and Geoffrey Medcalf from Dalkey, Co Dublin, were accompanied by their families to collect their honours.

June O’Neill collected a medal on behalf of her late husband Gerry O’Neill, and Helen Sparksman was presented with the award for her late husband Norman Sparksman, who died aged 89 on December 31st last.

Mr Jones (87), volunteered for the RAF just after the age of 18 and received his wings after training at Pensacola, Florida, in 1942, where he flew Catalina flying boats.

On his return to England he was sent on a special operational training course.

“You would normally go there to train to be second pilots, but two of us were so brilliant we were made captains immediately,” he said.

“Just two days after I was 20 I was captain of a 17-ton flying boat.”

He subsequently joined the 210 squadron up in Shetland, doing 18-hour patrols between Iceland and the Faroes and periodically monitoring the convoys taking supplies on the long journey to Russia – long missions carried out under constant threat from German U-boats armed with anti-aircraft guns. Mr Jones began taking helicopter flying lessons four years ago, and still flies aircraft. He raised more than €7,000 for a hospice when he undertook a tandem parachute jump three years ago.

The ambassador said the medals were being presented on the eve of the “great event” of the 65th anniversary of victory against fascism, which had been a threat to all mankind.

Mr Timoshkin said it was also a “most important” anniversary for his own family, as his father had fought fascism and had died, aged 92, last year. His own uncle Mikhail, after whom he was named, had been shot and killed nine days before the victory near Berlin, and it was very important to remember all those who died.

Just three veterans of the Arctic convoys are still alive in the Republic. Last month, John Hallahan (93) from Mercier Park in Cork was presented with the same medal at a ceremony at Cork City Hall. Mr Hallahan, who has been in hospital, was allowed out for a few hours to attend yesterday, but was unable to do so.

His wife, Peggy Hallahan, travelled to Dublin for the event.

The event was also attended by the acting head of the Defence Forces, Maj Gen Dave Ashe.

Victory Day marks the signing of the German surrender to the Soviet Union in the second World War.