WINSTON Churchill called it the “worst journey in the world”.
From 1941 to 1945, convoys of ships left Scotland to take tanks, planes, fuel and food to the Soviet Union with the aim of slowing Germany’s advances on the Eastern front.
At risk from sub-zero temperatures, mountainous seas and German warplanes and U-boats, more than 3,000 Royal Navy and merchant seaman perished.
Now, after a campaign to recognise their contribution to the war effort, the dwindling band of survivors are being honoured with a special medal - the Arctic Star.
And when 36 of them join a ceremony next month at the spot where the convoys embarked, former Sheffield solicitor Gordon Grayson will be among them.
“It really was a major event during the war which most people have forgotten about,” he said. “There were moments of extreme danger. It was a rough trip. It was in winter and it was dark and we had some very stormy occasions.”
Gordon, who is thought to be the oldest solicitor in Sheffield after spending all his working life with Graysons in Paradise Square, was a midshipman on HMS Lark as it made the perilous journey four times.
“At the beginning of the return fourth journey we were torpedoed off Murmansk. It was an acoustic torpedo that followed the sound of the propellors and it blew off the stern, but we didn’t sink and we were towed to a Russian port.”
Five people were killed in the attack.
Already David Cameron has presented the Arctic Star to 40 survivors of the convoys - now in their 80s and 90s - at a ceremony at Downing Street, describing the men as a “group of heroes”.
Having waited for seven decades to be honoured, the Prime Minister admitted that he was “righting a wrong”.
Gordon, who lives with his wife, Eleanor, in Totley, will be joining a medal ceremony and memorial service at Loch Ewe, an isolated inlet in the northwest Highlands of Scotland, on May 9.
From 1948 to 1992, he worked at Grayson Solicitors, now Graysons WE, and he kept in touch with some of his former colleagues, but they have since died.
More than 66,000 Royal Navy sailors and merchant seamen took part in the convoys, which travelled past Norway and through the Barents Sea to Murmansk and Archangel. A total of 87 merchant ships and 18 British warships were sunk.
The Cold War meant it was politically difficult to give the survivors a medal for assisting the Soviet Union, but now comes their moment in the spotlight.
Francis Russell, chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Project, which has organised the event, said: “We are honouring all the convoy veterans and this will be unique for us all – for the veterans to receive their medals officially and for all of us to witness such a well-deserved, long awaited and memorable occasion.
‘It is of special significance that this is happening on the shores of Loch Ewe, where many of the veterans began their journeys to Russia.”