Friday, 18 November 2011

Flowers in the Window

I woke up this morning to Flowers in the Window by Travis. Nothing remarkable about that, but it brought back memories for me because my mum had loved it. In the weeks before she died, she used to say to me, “That lovely song was playing on the radio again this morning,” and she’d sing a little of it.

I don’t know why she loved it so much, but it really touched her.

The song begins, “When I first held you I was cold.” Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but perhaps it made her think of my dad and his time on the Russian Convoys on the heavy cruiser HMS Kent.

This photograph of him was taken around that time. He would have been in his early 20s. The same age as my youngest son now.

Sometime during this last horrible week I watched a BBC programme about the veterans of the convoys going on a trip to Russia. They really are forgotten heroes. I know my dad used to freeze to his gun, that a hot drink would freeze in the mug before he could drink it, that he had to watch ships going down and countless men dying in those awful icy waters.

Churchill called them suicide missions and the most dangerous of the war. Without those convoys, the outcome of the war could and probably would have been very different.

Here’s another photo from the time. I don’t know who the men are in it.

I just can’t imagine what it must have been like, the unrelenting cold, the knowledge that at any moment they could come under attack from the air or the sea. I can’t imagine it and my dad never spoke of it. All I know is what my mum told me.

The Russians awarded a medal to the men who served on the convoys. What did we give them? Well eventually, after more than 60 years, they were given the Arctic Emblem, a tiny little star, but no medal.

In January this year, David Cameron said that the veterans should receive medals. They endured “Incredibly harsh conditions.” You don’t say? But he’s changed his mind. They’ve already been recognised with the Atlantic Star apparently and that will do. No matter that 95% of the men who went on to serve on the convoys had already earned their Atlantic Star.

And in his election campaign, Cameron promised to order the Tories to introduce an Arctic medal if they came to power. So much for promises. Good job the sailors didn't turn round in 1941 and say "No thanks, we've already done our bit in the Atlantic."

I know they didn't do what they did for medals or recognition or glory - they did it because they had to. Would it really be so difficult to finally thank them properly?

There are about 200 veterans of the Arctic campaign left. My dad is not one of them. Today is the 36th anniversary of his death and I wanted to write this blog in memory of him.

There is a petition on the government website to give the veterans the medal they deserve. So far it has attracted fewer than 700 signatures. It seems a shame.

If anyone would like to sign, here’s the link to the petition.


  1. Morning Teresa. Lovely post. Flowers in the Window holds lovely memories for me too - in fact most of the songs by Travis bring back happy memories. My dad was in the army in WW2 and out in the Far East. We have some wonderful photographs of him by the Pyramids but of course, it was not all like the photographs. My Grandfather was in the battle of the Somme - I mentioned that on someone else's blog this week. Dave's grandfather was also there and we would love to know if they ever met!
    I have signed the petition because it is almost symbolic of all the men and women who have or are fighting. They should all be thanked properly whether or not we agree with the cause they have been asked to fight.
    Again, a lovely post. Thank you.

  2. Although we may not know the people in the photographs I think the best way to honour them is to study the faces and look into their eyes. And if we can all take a few moments to read some of the names on the memorial plaques then their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
    As for politicians - who needs them?

  3. Thank you Deborah.
    My Gt Uncle Laurie was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme - he was in the Border Regiment.
    And I agree wholeheartedly, however we may feel about wars, those who have to fight them should be thanked properly.

    Thanks, Keith. I do wish it was the politicians who had to fight when they start these wars - there wouldn't be as many that's for sure.

  4. What a lovely remembrance for those forgotten men, Teresa.

  5. I signed the petition and I hope I will never complain about the cold again.

  6. Your dad would be proud of you for writing this blog entry. It's diginified and moving and the photo of the unknown men really brings it all home.

  7. Thank you, Rosemary.

    Thanks, Marian.

    Thank you, Hydra. I wish he'd lived to see me get published. He used to write, but all I have is his letters.

  8. Hi Teresa, off to sign the petition now. I saw that programme as well with my husband. After it, we both agreed that we'd never complain about the cold again.

  9. I'll sign it and tweet it. Why the heck they have to be so mean and stingy about something like this, absolutely escapes me.

  10. What a lovely post, Teresa. A fitting tribute.

    I just tried to sign the petition but couldn't complete it because the first of the 2 scrambled words you have to type wasn't showing properly. Will try again tomorrow.

  11. Thanks Susan. It really brought it home didn't it and those lovely men that are left with all their awful memories deserve recognition.

    Thank you, Jenny.

    Thanks, Jacula. Those scrambled words are a right pain sometimes. It seems unnecessary as you have to then confirm your signature by email anyway! But then, they don't want to make it easy for us do they.

  12. After reading this, I didn't hesitate to sign the petition. Thank for raising awareness, Teresa.

  13. What a beautiful tribute Teresa. Thank you. I'll sign the petition.

  14. Thank you, Martin.

    And thank you too, Sue.

  15. Incredible pictures. You can't help wondering what the men were thinking and who at home was waiting and worrying.

  16. Lovely post,Teresa. I've just signed the petition, what a shame there's only 788 signatures.

  17. Thank you, Deb. It is a shame, but that's 788 people who care :-)

  18. Lovely tribute to your Dad, Teresa. I saw a documentary recently about aircrews on bombers and it seems they haven't received any recognition either. In this case it's because their missions resulted in so many civilian deaths - but how was that their fault? They were doing what they were told to do with pretty basic equipment. I once knew a lovely man who had been a rear gunner on a Lancaster bomber and he told me he would be haunted to his dying day by the images of German schoolchildren running for cover as the bombers dropped their load.
    Politicians all promise one thing when they haven't been elected and then do something different when they are in power.
    It's completely right that men such as your Dad should be honoured for what they endured.
    I'm sure he would be inordinately proud of what you have achieved if he were still here.x

  19. 876 signatures on the petition now, once mine is counted. Yes, I finally managed to get it to work!

    Lydia - I watched that documentary about the bomber boys, too, and was amazed they'd never been officially recognized for their efforts. (Government too afraid of war crimes or compensation claims, most likely!)

  20. How awful, Lydia - I didn't know that about the aircrews on bombers. And the poor man with that image in his mind, so sad.
    Thank you x

    That's excellent, Jacula - perhaps the more people that sign, the more the word will get around and it will snowball! Thank you x

  21. Teresa - I think you can post a link to the petition on Facebook. That might bump the number of signatures up. Just a thought.

  22. I've signed it too Teresa and just read your Christmas story, A Tin of Happiness in WWFS. A sweet/sad story. Hope you will soon be blogging again.

  23. Signed it. 1062 now.

  24. Thanks Eileen.

    Thank you Maggie - I should dedicate that story to my husband and my late mum.

    Thank you Anonymous.

    Sorry to be so tardy in replying x

  25. Fascinating post Theresa. Have also just realised that your photo of girls on the beach was taken in Harwich with its very distinctive mini light houses.

  26. Thanks Pocketeers - yes, those are the Leading Lights in Dovercourt (which is in Harwich). Harwich itself also has a set of leading lights :-)

  27. I didn't realize these men had is quite so difficult. I'm off to sign the petition now.

    Love the picture of your father too.

  28. A lovely photo of your dad and a moving post, Teresa.

    Off to sign the petition.