Ushakov medal awarded to Dagenham seaman for wartime missions in Arctic
PUBLISHED: 07:26 20 October 2014 | UPDATED: 07:34 20 October 2014
Seven decades after putting his life on the line during the Second World War Arctic Convoy missions, George Samuel Barker has been recognised for his bravery. He talks to reporter Anna Silverman about life at sea and his pride at collecting the medal.
After braving freezing temperatures, battling years of love-sickness and suffering an injury which saw “blood pour out of his eyes and ears”, a Dagenham Navy veteran has been recognised for his part in the Second World War.
George Samuel Barker, 92, was decorated with the Ushakov medal on September 30 in recognition of his bravery delivering supplies to the Eastern Front in the Arctic Convoy Missions.
He was deployed to the HMS Dido in 1943 where he endured two years of laughter with his “mess mates” and heart-ache as he sent love letters to his wife-to-be back at home.
“I had a fun birthday celebration one year on board the Dido,” George recalled.
“We were off the coast of Murmansk in Russia and when it was your birthday on the ship all your mates gave you something called ‘sippers’ out of their rum.
“There was about 10 of them so I was quite drunk and then we went on shore and played a football match against a Russian hospital team.
“I was running the line and must have collapsed I was so drunk.
“They had to carry me back to the ship. We all laughed about it the next day.”
George, who lived in Dagenham his entire life until moving to Romford six years ago, was on a ship entrusted to take six and half tonnes of gold bullion to Russia.
In 1945, he was in a “devastating” accident after peace was declared, but the Dido was late to hear the news.
German aircraft flew overhead when they were off the coast of Copenhagen and he was badly injured by a gun blast when the Dido – still thinking the war was on – opened fire.
“I was off-watch so was lying on the top deck.
“Our ship didn’t know war was over so they opened fire and I caught the full blast.
“Everyone suddenly went to action stations and I should have made my way there too and put my protective gear on, but I didn’t make it in time.
“I was pouring with blood. It was coming out of my eyes and my ears. They patched me up in the sick bay and I remember having my head done up with bandages.
“I was injured so badly I didn’t know where I was. I don’t know how I got back to England but next thing I knew I was in Gillingham Naval hospital. I was in there for two or three months being treated for gun blast.”
George was eventually discharged on a compassionate posting to Blackpool before being permanently discharged as unfit for further duties in 1946, still suffering from head injuries.
“I married in 1946 but the first six months of my married life I was still reporting to hospital,” said George.
“We started writing letters to each other in 1942 but didn’t meet until much later.”
It was only when George’s uncle showed a picture of his nephew to NAME wife-to-be that they began writing, but the love-struck pair didn’t meet until right before the disastrous convoy that injured George so badly.
“Before we set sail I made my way to Oldham finally. When I got there she’d just come off a night-shift at the ammunition factory. I went straight to her house and she was asleep. I just about woke her up.”
George stayed for three days before returning to his ship to set sail on the Dido convoy.
After collecting his medal, traditionally handed out to Soviet sailors and named after the redoubtable Russian Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, George said: “It was great to receive the medal. They were rewarding people because it was dangerous work.
“I suffered from the injury most of my life but it made me feel proud to be there collecting the Ushakov.
“It’s something to remember those days we were out at sea by.”
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