Family cheers medal award 75 years on

Lisburn woman Marion Hiddleston (left) and her daughter Aileen McGarrigle with a photograph of Sam Leslie during his naval service and his posthumously awarded Arctic Star medal.
Lisburn woman Marion Hiddleston (left) and her daughter Aileen McGarrigle with a photograph of Sam Leslie during his naval service and his posthumously awarded Arctic Star medal.

An Ulster Star story about the late Tommy Jess set a local family on a trail that ended with a Lisburn woman receiving the medal earned by her father 75 years ago.

Marion Hiddleston recently received the Arctic Star medal on behalf of her late father, Samuel Leslie, who, like Tommy, served on the Arctic convoys during World War Two.

The military campaign medal was instituted by the UK in December 2012 in recognition of the courage of servicemen who crewed the treacherous Arctic convoys bringing vital supplies across the icy Baltic Sea to Russia’s Red Army.

Tommy Jess was among those to receive the medal, but it was a Star report, in November last year, about his having received the Russian Ushakov medal, again for his Arctic convoy service, that set Marion to thinking.

Marion remembered her father, Samuel Leslie, was a coxswain aboard HMS Norfolk during the war; he had spoken about the Arctic convoys and brought home photographs capturing the sub-zero conditions on board ship.

She and her daughter, Aileen McGarrigle, decided to investigate, Aileen’s eldest daughter giving them a head-start thanks to her interest in naval tattoose.

“A few years ago,” said Aileen, “knowing her late great-grandfather was in the Royal Navy, Heather asked my mum if he had any tattoos – which he had – and then asked if there were any photos of him that showed them.

“My mum didn’t have any so she asked her brother, my uncle John; he couldn’t find any photographs but he was able to locate my grandfather’s full naval service records.”

As well as detailing Samuel’s ‘distinguishing marks’, the document listed the ships he served on, including the convoy ship

HMS Norfolk, so Aileen and Marion applied for the Arctic Star on Samuel’s behalf, only for the Ministry of Defence to write that he was not eligible for the medal.

Said Marion: “They said that to qualify for the medal the person in question needed to have served on board a ship that had travelled within the Arctic Circle for a minimum of one day between the years of 1939 and 1945.

“We knew he (Samuel) had to leave and re-board ships at various times during his service, so just assumed the MoD were right and he hadn’t been on the Norfolk when it entered the Arctic Circle.”

However, Marion’s cousin, Marie Dunleavy, was not convinced, and on the advice of Limavady Museum’s John Pudney, a member of the Royal Naval Association, checked Samuel’s service history dates against official records on a trusted naval history website, where she established he was on board the Norfolk between August 1939 and July 1941.

She confirmed her grandfather was on the ship while it was deployed off Bear Island, Norway - well within the Arctic Circle - on August 23, 1940, continuing to Stavanger, Norway on September 30, 1940.

On August 12 this year Marion sent the new evidence to the MoD and was delighted when, 10 days later, she received the news the family had been hoping for.

Almost exactly 75 years to the day after his ship arrived in the Arctic Circle, Samuel Leslie was posthumously awarded the Arctic Star.

“We are so pleased that he has finally been recognised, even though we had to present the MoD with its own records to get it,” said Marion. “My father joined the navy (in 1917) when he was still a teenager, and he had quite a career.

“He was on the submarines at one stage, which must have been very difficult, and was also involved in the battle with the Bismarck.”

Samuel left the Navy in 1945 and became a Coastguard at the Mull of Kintyre. In 1946 he alerted Campbeltown lifeboats to the shipwreck of the Byron Darnton, which he spotted after it ran aground off Sanda Island; everyone on board was rescued alive.

He was later posted to Bangor, where he died at the early age of 66.

Mrs Hiddleston feels her father’s Arctic Star medal serves as a fitting tribute to a life well lived, and the perfect end to his remarkable story.

Of the man whose own story played such an important part in securing Mr Leslie’s medal, Mrs Hiddleston said she and her family were deeply saddened to learn of his death, and wished to express their heartfelt condolences to his family.