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Russian honour for naval hero.

Byline: By Louise Redvers

A merchant Navy veteran has been presented with a medal of honour by former Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

Joseph Thompson, who was born in Willington Quay, near Wallsend in 1925, was in the 1943 Murmansk Arctic convoys, rescuing Russian seamen from the ocean.

Now, 60 years after taking part in the mission, the 78-year-old has been awarded a medal marking the 50th anniversary of the Russian convoys in recognition of his work aboard the Fastnet rescue ship.

Joseph said: "I joined a small passenger ship in Glasgow which had been converted into a hospital rescue ship called the Fastnet.

"We were supposed to be doing regular trips from Glasgow to pick up American and British ships that were loaded with tanks, guns and aircraft off Iceland and then follow them into the Arctic seas near Murmansk and Archangel in Russia.

"Very few Merchant Navy ships survived against the German U-boats, submarines and bombers based in Norway so we were not safe.

"Around one in six came back. The Royal Navy could attack and defend itself with high speed and weapons, but the poor Merchant Navy sailors were sitting ducks."

When he received his Russian medal, Joseph said: "I am very proud to have this because I don't think there is anyone else in the North East from the Merchant Navy who has one. It is very rare."

Joseph now lives in Ponteland and is considering writing his life story. The great-grandfather was just 15 when he joined the Merchant Navy and he travelled all over the world in 37 separate trips aboard British, Swedish, American, Canadian, Estonian and Irish ships.

During his 17 years of service, he crossed thousands of miles of ocean, travelling to all the continents.

He began as a cabin boy for the Swedish merchant navy on the Atland cargo ship.

This followed a spell as a paper boy after Wallsend Secondary School, which he left at 13 because his parents couldn't afford the fees.

His first mission was delivering meat and provisions to a German-U Boat in the South Atlantic, which led him to America.

The next stop was Immingham, near Hull, but after arriving late at the station and missing a train to Newcastle, he ended aboard the Empire Pearl tanker, for the West Indies.

Joseph stopped off at hundreds of exotic and far-fetched locations including Cuba, Venezuela and the Dutch West Indies.

Decorated with a collection of other service medals, in 1947 Joseph married and lived in a three-bedroom home in Percy Main.

He went on to run flower shops, social clubs and butcher's shops and has even appeared as an extra in films and television programmes.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 26, 2003
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