Arctic Convoys veteran helps March celebrate Merchant Navy Day

The Red Duster is raised in March to mark Merchant Navy Day.

The Red Duster is raised in March to mark Merchant Navy Day. - Credit: Archant

A 91-year-old veteran of the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War was among those marking Merchant Navy Day in March.

Dick Housden served in the convoys that were crucial in maintaining supplies to the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945.

Earlier this year he was awarded the Ushakov Medal, a Russian military honour given for courage displayed in the defence of the USSR during the war.

Mr Housden, from March, wore all his service medals at Friday’s ceremony, which was hosted by Fenland District Council chairman Councillor Carol Cox and included the raising of the Red Ensign, the Merchant Navy’s official flag, affectionately known as the Red Duster.

Former merchant seaman Councillor Fred Yeulett spoke of the “close bond between the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy” and paid special tribute to those who had served in the Arctic Convoys.

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He said: “This year is the 75th anniversary of the launch of those convoys and events are being held to honour those who served in them.

“More than 3,000 Allied seamen were killed during the long-running operation which Winston Churchill warned would involve ‘the worst journey in the world’.

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“By the time Hitler had been vanquished, 87 Merchant Navy and 18 Royal Navy ships had been sunk along the route.”

Cllr Yeulett also read out a dramatic account by a merchant seaman of the Germans’ bombing of Piraeus Harbour in Greece in April 1941, when British ships were unloading.

Those attending the ceremony included Sir David Arculus, the High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, and representatives from the March Royal Naval Association, the March and Wisbech branches of the Royal British Legion, the Federation of Merchant Mariners and the mayors of Wisbech and Whittlesey.

The High Sheriff read out a message from the Earl of Wessex, praising “the often unsung personnel of our Merchant Navy”.

The flag was blessed and prayers read by the Reverend Anthony Chandler, the March RNA’s chaplain. The flag was also flown at Wisbech Yacht Harbour.

Merchant Navy Day has been officially commemorated in Britain since 2000.

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