Children win recognition for Chichester Arctic hero

This cartoon was given to Clem Hughes as a retirement gift

This cartoon was given to Clem Hughes as a retirement gift

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WHEN Clem Hughes and his daughter Shelley sat down to watch television a few months ago, they didn’t expect it to spark a campaign for his wartime services.

By coincidence they witnessed a presentation of Arctic Star medals to war veterans who served on the Arctic convoys.

Clem Hughes, from Chichester, as a Trinity House pilot

Clem Hughes, from Chichester, as a Trinity House pilot

Mr Hughes, 86, had served on these convoys when he was just 17 years old – but he hadn’t been included as a veteran to receive the medal.

Since March his children have been lobbying the Ministry of Defence to ensure their father received proper recognition... and their efforts finally paid off earlier this month.

Mr Hughes, who lives in Chichester, was thrilled to finally receive his Arctic Star medal on Friday, July 12. However, unlike the veterans on the television, his medal arrived via post with no indication of a presentation ceremony, which his daughter Shelley believes he deserves.

Veterans of the Arctic convoys endured a lengthy campaign before eventually David Cameron announced his decision to award Arctic Stars last year. It took dedicated campaign leader Eddie Grenfell 16 years to see his dream become reality, originally appealing to PM John Major.

Clem Hughes, from Chichester, was awarded the Arctic Star medal

Clem Hughes, from Chichester, was awarded the Arctic Star medal

Grenfell, who died earlier this month at the age of 93, was known for being a hero twice over – once for his courage in the Arctic convoys and also for his tenacity in securing recognition for his colleagues.

Before joining the Arctic convoys, Mr Hughes lived in South London where he remembers the horrors of the blitz, including witnessing the destruction of neighbouring houses. For the first month he was evacuated to Cornwall, but then his father brought him home after their area had not been bombed during 
that time.

Mr Hughes specifically joined up to the war effort, aged 17, as an apprentice for Shell Oil, then called the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company. He was required to go wherever his ship, the Nacella, went.

Along with Mr Hughes were three other apprentices, one of whom he remembers as Brian Hollingsworth. They kept in touch after the war, but have since lost contact.

Clem Hughes, from Chichester, with his daughter Shelley and his Arctic Star medal

Clem Hughes, from Chichester, with his daughter Shelley and his Arctic Star medal

He made two trips on the Nacella in 1944 and 1945 to Murmansk in Russia, to provide the Allies with supplies. The journeys lasted months at a time, and the convoys were formed of 50 ships, although not all made it back.

The Arctic Star medal commemorates this highly-dangerous service: between 1941 and 1945 more than 3,000 Royal Navy and merchant seamen died on the convoys. Now there are only 200 veterans still alive.

Mr Hughes could recall watching other ships sinking after being hit by torpedoes and said one of the most physically challenging jobs was keeping exposed pipes free of ice and chipping ice off the decks in adverse conditions.

He explained he didn’t feel afraid when on the convoys, similar to during the blitz, because he was too young to realise the full danger of the 
situations.

After the war Mr Hughes continued to work as an apprentice for Shell Oil and after taking certificates, became a Trinity House pilot at the age of 31.

Shelley has vivid memories of her father going away for long periods of time, and his terrifying stories of climbing up the sides of the ships in force ten gales, which he continued to do right up to his retirement aged 65.

However, his children didn’t discover his contribution to the war effort until about a year ago when he happened to mention it in conversation. Until then he had never spoken about his experiences with the Arctic convoys.

And now, almost 70 years on from Mr Hughes’ service, he has finally received his much-deserved recognition along with other veterans of the Arctic convoys. The Arctic Star is a reminder of his bravery, as well as the appreciation of his country.