A medal fit for a hero

18th January 2018 | posted in News

It was one of the most difficult campaigns of the Second World War, with Winston Churchill describing it as “the worst journey in the world”.

From 1939 to 1945, thousands of British sailors and merchant seamen were engaged in a bitter struggle to provide material to support the Soviet war effort. This involved escorting ships in waters patrolled by German ships and U-boats.

These Artic convoys cost the lives of around 3,000 sailors and merchant seamen, with over 100 civilian and military ships being lost.

One of the men who served on these convoys was Michael Laheney.

His daughter, Margaret Bolton, who lives in a Railway Housing Association bungalow in Plevna Mews, Shildon, read about a new medal being given to veterans who served on the convoys and applied on behalf of her late father, who died of cancer aged only 46.

The Artic Star medal was instituted in 2012 after a campaign by surviving veterans.

Margaret says: “I was thrilled when I received the medal and a letter from the Ministry of Defence; it gives me something else to remember my father by.”

Margaret was a child when Michael joined the Royal Navy in 1940, answering the call of King and Country.

She remembers: “We were living in Hartlepool at the time and that was bombed quite badly. My father was away when his brother, his wife and their two children were killed in a bombing raid. 

“My dad said he was told on the ship that there was bad news and that his family had been killed and he immediately thought it was us. He came back for the funeral and it was very sad, especially as the two boys were aged just three and five.”

Margaret says Michael didn’t talk much about his experience on the Artic Convoy, although he did have a habit of using Royal Navy speak when he was at home.

She recalls: “He would always refer to things hitting the deck when we dropped something and once I heard him talk to my mother about tinned fish. I thought he was referring to sardines, but that was the name they gave to torpedos that were fired at the ships.”

Margaret says that as well as the Artic convoys, Michael travelled all over the world with the Royal Navy during the War. 

She adds: “They once stopped at New York and the film stars of the day like Barbara Stanwyck and Deborah Kerr served them food as they were helping out with the war effort. He enjoyed that.”

Margaret also applied to Russia to see if Michael would qualify for the Makarov Medal, which the country was presenting to those who came to its aid during the War. Unfortunately, Russian law prevents the medal from being issued posthumously, but Margaret still received a letter from the Government explaining this.

The letter concludes by saying: “Let me assure you the Russian people do remember and greatly value the role of all British allies who fought together against the common enemy during World War Two. Mr Laheney’s contribution to our joint victory is highly appreciated.”

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