A veteran of the bitter arctic convoys which saw vital supplies transported by sea to the Soviet Union during the Second World War has received a medal from the Russian government.
Derrick Flatters, 93, joined the Royal Navy at the age of 17 and was a stoker aboard HMS Berwick – one of many ships tasked with carrying food and equipment in freezing conditions.
After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Stalin asked Britain and its allies to provide supplies. The most direct route was by sea, around northern Norway to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel.
Between 1941 and 1945, over four million tonnes of supplies were delivered – despite regular attacks by German submarines, aircraft and warships. The four-year struggle cost the lives of around 3,000 sailors, with more than 100 ships lost. The mission was described by Sir Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”.
Mr Flatters, who currently lives at Whitefriars Care Home, in St George’s Avenue, Stamford, said conditions onboard were tough.
He said: “It was so cold we had huge amounts of ice forming on the deck and rails. We had to chip it off to stop the ship toppling over.
“We had canvas clothing, lined with sheep’s wool, but it was a very hard life. Many people struggled with the conditions and suffered pneumonia and all kinds of problems.”
Before joining the navy, Derrick, who grew up in Langtoft, worked as a butcher at Webster’s of Baston. His skills were put to good use on board – cutting up huge pieces of frozen meat.
The journey from Southampton to Russia took 30 days and rations were very basic.
Mr Flatters already has a number of medals honouring his service – including the Arctic Star. He was recently contacted by the Russian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Alexander Yakovenko, asking him to accept a Ushakov medal on behalf of President Vladimir Putin.
After the war, Mr Flatters worked as a lorry driver, before joining Fiat-Allis in Essendine – which made agricultural machinery – where he was an engineer for 35 years.
His wife Betty died 10 years ago. Until recently, Mr Flatters lived in Harvey Close, Bourne.