Tributes paid to a brave member of the Arctic convoys of World War Two

A merchant seaman who braved the icy waters of the Arctic during World War Two has died, aged 102.
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John Hirst of Horbury and other navy and merchant seamen, carried vital supplies through Nazi attacks in the Arctic convoys.

One member of the convoy was the merchant ship SS Empire Cowper with young signalman John Hirst on board for his first ever mission.

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He was a conscript for the duration of the war and had completed his training only days before he joined the crew.

Second World War veteran of the Artic Convoy John HirstSecond World War veteran of the Artic Convoy John Hirst
Second World War veteran of the Artic Convoy John Hirst

Four days after leaving Iceland the convoy had to scatter owing to a severe gale. They were then bombed continually by the Luftwaffe and the order came to abandon ship. John helped launch lifeboats and then escaped on a life raft with two other survivors.

Twelve days after his journey began John arrived at his home in Middlestown by bus dressed in the uniform of a Russian sailor to be met with incredulity by his parents.

John then went back to sea and served for six-and-a-half years on board eight different ships.

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His grandaughter Ruth said: “Among the many fond memories I have, one that meant so much to Grandad was accompanying him to the Remembrance Service each year. It was so important to him to pay his respects, and it was just wonderful to see him wearing his medals with pride and being such a respected part of the community."

John Hirst from Horbury was awarded a commmerative medal  from the Russian goverment to mark 75 years since he took part in the Artic Convoys. Picture Scott MerryleesJohn Hirst from Horbury was awarded a commmerative medal  from the Russian goverment to mark 75 years since he took part in the Artic Convoys. Picture Scott Merrylees
John Hirst from Horbury was awarded a commmerative medal from the Russian goverment to mark 75 years since he took part in the Artic Convoys. Picture Scott Merrylees

John was born in Ossett in 1921 to Albert and Eva. He had one sister Mabel.

The family moved to Sandy Lane, Middlestown when John was 15 months old and he later attended school in Netherton.

At 14 he was apprenticed to Nettletons butchers in Horbury before taking a job at Earnshaws sawmill working with the horses until he was called up for service in 1941.

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After the war he married Lucy and the couple had many happy years together before her death 27 years ago.

The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire Michael Fox presents the Arctic Star Convoy Medal to members of the Royal British Legion at a ceremony held at Horbury Working Mens Club.
The medal is for veterans who served on Arctic convoys and in Bomber Command during World War 11.
Left to right, Charles Erswell, John Hirst, Don Heighton, Christine Spencer, Co-chairman Royal British Legion, South and West Yorkshire. W080713GLaThe Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire Michael Fox presents the Arctic Star Convoy Medal to members of the Royal British Legion at a ceremony held at Horbury Working Mens Club.
The medal is for veterans who served on Arctic convoys and in Bomber Command during World War 11.
Left to right, Charles Erswell, John Hirst, Don Heighton, Christine Spencer, Co-chairman Royal British Legion, South and West Yorkshire. W080713GLa
The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire Michael Fox presents the Arctic Star Convoy Medal to members of the Royal British Legion at a ceremony held at Horbury Working Mens Club. The medal is for veterans who served on Arctic convoys and in Bomber Command during World War 11. Left to right, Charles Erswell, John Hirst, Don Heighton, Christine Spencer, Co-chairman Royal British Legion, South and West Yorkshire. W080713GLa

John and Lucy had one daughter Christine, two granddaughters, Ruth and Rachel, and four great grandchildren.

Ruth added: “Grandad loved his life. He was always pleased to see people and he loved showing visitors around his home.

“He had a wonderful collection of articles, photographs and books that document the heroism of the Arctic convoy members. He loved spending time in the library and in his garden: he had an allotment in Horbury until he was 99.

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“He always said to us: 'Haven't I had a wonderful life?’ and we take some comfort from that.”

Rachel said: “Grandad had a great sense of humour and enjoyed recounting amusing stories. “He was a strong constant in our lives and took a lot of interest in what we, and his great grandchildren, were doing.”

After the war John had a variety of jobs including working at local mining machinery factory Fletcher Sutcliffe Wild for more than 30 years.

He was immensely proud of his service in the Merchant Navy and flew the Red Ensign outside his home.

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Along with other Arctic veterans he campaigned for years before finally receiving recognition from the UK government in 2013 in the form of the Arctic Star.

Further to that, a historic agreement between Vladimir Putin and then-Prime Minister David Cameron allowed the Russian government to award the Ushakov medal in 2015 in gratitude for their service during the war.

On John’s 100th birthday a bench was unveiled in his honour at Horbury Memorial Park attended by members of the Royal British Legion, civic dignitaries, family and friends.

John Lockwood, president of the Horbury, Sitlington and Ossett Branch of the Royal British Legion said: “I knew John for a long, long time. He was a real gentleman and he will be very sorely missed in Horbury.”

John’s funeral will be on Tuesday, March 12 at 2pm at Horbury Methodist Church, High Street, Horbury.