Too late for an Arctic Convoy medal for Jim McHugh

Jimmy McHugh

On the brink of a week long  celebration of the Russian Arctic Convoys at Aultbea on Loch Ewe – from where they departed – one of the last veterans of the World War II Arctic Convoys,  those heroic and pivotal challenges in unimaginable conditions, Jim McHugh, has died.

Jim McHugh did eight return convoy voyages from Loch Ewe in Wester Ross to the Kola Inlet at Murmansk. Russia, died peacefully at the age of 88, on the 21st April 2012.

Jim was born in Liverpool and joined the Royal Navy in March 1942.  After training at HMS Raleigh, Plymouth, he was posted to Chatham Barracks.

He served as a gunlayer on three ships, HMS Achates (destroyer), HMS Nairana (aircraft carrier), and HMS Zenith (Z class destroyer), all on convoy escort duties to Russia and Malta. He was engaged on anti-submarine and enemy aircraft protection and bombardment action at both the Crete and the Normandy landings in June 1944.

His first ship, HMS Achates, was sunk whilst laying a smoke screen to protect Russian convoy JW15B by the German battle cruiser, Admiral Hipper, on the 31st December 1942.

Jim clung to the sinking hull with others until the approach of a trawler, Northern Gem, to which they had to swim in freezing water. There were 80 survivors out of 193. For the rest of his life Jim had a dram on New Year’s Eve in memory of his lost shipmates.

Nearing the end of his service Jim was recommended for and took a deep sea diving course, which he enjoyed.  Then he was told he had to sign on for another 5 years. He declined.

All those of us who know and care for Jim’s fellow veterans of the Arctic Convoys send our sincere condolences to Jim’s wife, Audrey, who looked after him so well.  Her first husband, who also died, was also a convoy veteran and she later met Jim through a convoy association dinner.

The photograph above, of Jim and Audrey, was taken at the last Convoy Veteran’s Reunion in 2008 at Loch Ewe. He won’t be there next week and if they ever do strike an Arctic Convoy Medal, it’s way too late.

Mike Rowlands

Editor’s Note: Mike Rowlands cares for and has written about Arctic Convoy veteran, Jack Harrison, who served on HMS Diadem, who visited Loch Ewe, at the end of November 2009, as a guest of the owners of Pool House, Poolewe, with whom he seeded the idea for an Arctic Convoy Museum at Loch Ewe. It is this very project that is hosting the week long programme of events at Aultbea next week.

The title above – chosen by us and not by  Mike Rowlands, refers to the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron, when he was campaigning for election, promised to redress the inexcusable failure of the government to create a medal for those who served on the vital convoys to Murmansk in the second World War. Once in office, and faced with resistance from the Ministry of Defence, which has always opposed such a medal, he reneged. Now there is talk of a rethink with no care for the fact that the surviving veterans have no time to wait for the thought processes of the mandarins to come to an unpredictable conclusion. Russia, on the other hand, is openly and continuingly grateful to the veterans and honours them on every possible occasion. But then Russia, unlike Westminster, actually knows about the conditions these men survived in the battle to keep Russia supplied and active in that war.

We never met Jim McHugh in person but had a long telephone conversation with him and with his wife a couple of years ago. He was irrepressible, full of energy and utterly memorable.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • just a short note to say my father alfred victor bond has also passed away on 17/5/2012 he served on the hms nariana he was 86 years old

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    richard bond May 26, 2012 11:46 pm Reply
    • Our sympathies, Richard. When someone with your father’s experience dies it is a loss we all feel.

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      newsroom May 27, 2012 12:15 am Reply
  • I am pleased to confirm that my Aunt, now 92, received the Arctic Star in recognition of her husband’s service in HMS Achates. He was Bernard Charles Carpenter who was lost with the Achates on 31-12-1942. Bernard was pothsumously Mentioned in Dispatches. In more recent years, his widow, Eva, took a cruise to the North Cape to be near to Bernard. I just feel deep respect and unlimited gratitude to all who fought for freedom in this conflict whether on land, sea or in the air.

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    Keith BOSTEL April 1, 2014 8:50 pm Reply
    • Thank you for recording this. We’re delighted that your aunt has had the opportunity to take possession of her husband’s Arctic Star – at very long last.
      The lost Achates is one of the resonant escorts on the Arctic Convoys and indeed in British naval history.
      In what is known as the Battle of the Barents Sea, which took place on the 31st of December 1942, Achates and the other RN escorts were shepherding convoy JW51B. They were attacked by a powerful force of German surface raiders which included the pocket battleship Lutzow, the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and half a dozen destroyers. The little destroyers were the largest of the RN escorts on the convoy but they put up a robust defence that saw none of the merchant ships sunk.
      That blow to national pride led Winston Churchill to issue the famous command, ‘Sink the Bismarck’, with the astonishing series of events to follow that concluded in just that action.
      Achates took heavy damage from the Hipper while throwing up a smoke screen to hide the merchant ships in the convoy. She was sunk and her survivors taken to Murmansk.
      Achates had, earlier that year, in May, been part of the destroyer escort for HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales, leaving Scapa Flow in the attempt to find the battleship Bismarck which, with Prinz Eugen, was known to have slipped out from the Kiel Canal into the North Atlantic where it would have been a lethally effective surface raider.
      In the prevailing conditions, the destroyers were unable to keep pace with the battleships and were told to follow at best speed.
      The end of this affair was the Bismarck catching the Hood with its second salvo, thought to have hit the Hood’s ammunition store, resulting in a massive explosion that split the ship and saw her sink in 4 minutes.

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      newsroom April 2, 2014 12:29 am Reply

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