Local World War Two hero, Tommy Jess, was one of eight veterans who have been honoured by the Royal Navy for their efforts as part of the Arctic Convoy.
Tommy was awarded the Arctic Star, after it was approved by the Queen in 2013, for his vital role in shipping supplies to the Russian front, one of the most gruelling naval operations in the Second World War.
Over four million tonnes of tanks, fighter planes, munitions, food and raw material were delivered at a high cost – thousands of Allied lives as well as the sinking of 104 merchant ships and 16 military ships.
Historians estimate that up to 95,000 people took part in the Arctic convoys transporting millions of tonnes of military equipment and raw materials to the Soviet Union.
Many of these men came from Northern Ireland, which had well-established links with the Scottish shipping industry, but there were also men from the Republic on the convoys.
On one of the runs Tommy’s ship, HMS Lapwing was torpedoed by the German fleet, and he was one of the few men to survive the icy seas and return home again.
The attack killed 158 of his fellow shipmates and Tommy was one of just 60 who survived the attack, clinging desperately to a lifeboat in the middle of the Arctic Sea.
Even after all these years, Tommy can recall clearly the hours following the attack and the struggle for survival on a life raft in the icy sea.
The survivors from HMS Lapwing were rescued by HMS Savage.
Once on board the survivors were examined by the ship’s doctor, who said they would only have survived another 20 minutes in the freezing conditions. In a bid to bring them round they were put under hot showers and as Tommy recalls: “They poured brandy down our throats.”
Tommy joined other veterans of the Arctic Convoys last week to be “feted and toasted” in traditional Royal Naval style at HMS Hibernia, the headquarters of the Royal Naval Reserve at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn.
‘Up Spirits’ is a Royal Navy toast based on the 300 year old tradition of “pusser’s rum” rations issued to sailors. Pusser is a derivation of the term purser.