Arctic war veteran finally gets medal

Gloria De Piero MP is visiting Betty Barlow whose late husband Douglas was posthumously awarded the Arctic Star medal 70 years after the conflict ended. Pictured with Betty's son Paul who has flown from North Carolina US for the occasion.
Gloria De Piero MP is visiting Betty Barlow whose late husband Douglas was posthumously awarded the Arctic Star medal 70 years after the conflict ended. Pictured with Betty's son Paul who has flown from North Carolina US for the occasion.

A Sutton Second World War veteran has finally been posthumously awarded the Arctic Star medal more than 70 years after the conflict ended.

Betty Barlow’s husband, Mr Douglas Barlow, served in the Royal Navy on the Arctic Convoys with distinction.

Seventy years on surviving veterans and their widows and relatives were finally meant to have received The Arctic Star medal to honour their service and sacrifice

But after applying for the award for her late husband, the Barlow family heard nothing back.

Mother of two Mrs Barlow 87, said: “My son Paul applied straight away when we first heard about the medal, but several months later he never got a reply . He wrote to the Ministry of Defence to say how disgusted he was.

“We took it up with Gloria De Piero our local MP who took up the case and chased officials and ministers finally sorting it out for us.”

Paul flew from America where he now lives, to her home on Deepdale Gardens to finally see the medal which will be a source of pride and pleasure to the family for many years to come.

Betty said: “Douglas was a lovely man, everybody who knew him liked him. He was very quiet and intelligent. He had a photographic memory - he could remember all the dates in Britain’s history and all the kings and queens for example if there was a quiz on the TV.

“He was at university when he joined the Royal Navy, I think he started in signals. He took some tests and the Navy sent him to the old Highgate Royal Naval College. He turned down his commission as he couldn’t afford to live in the officers’ mess because he didn’t have a bank account.”

As a Petty Officer, Douglas became a supply rating on board the destroyer HMS Oribi. He eventually became a Leading Supply assistant

Betty proudly displayed the Arctic Star medal alongside the Atlantic Star and medals and lapel stars he received on board the eight ships he served on during his wartime service as well as two medals presented by Russia.

The couple first met after Douglas was demobbed and married in March 1949.

She said her husband never told her much about his life at sea.

“Douglas said the war was a terrible thing,” explained Mrs Barlow.

“I said to him I knew it was - but I didn’t really know anything about it. You can see the story of what the convoys were up against in documentaries now.”

The Arctic convoys sailed to northern ports in the Soviet Union - primarily Arkhangelsk (Archangel) and Murmansk. About 1400 merchant ships delivered essential supplies to the Soviet Union escorted by ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and the U.S Navy. Eighty-five merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships (two cruisers, six destroyers, eight other escort ships) were lost.

One harrowing incident Douglas did mention still sticks in her memory.

“They were on a convoy, it was foggy and they came upon a submarine. They rammed the sub but it didn’t go down. Then they were ordered back to the convoy. The submarine was eventually destroyed and there were 67 young German sailors in the water. His destroyer was ordered back to the convoy and left the Germans to their fate in the sea. Douglas said he never thought the British could do such a thing.”

Mr Barlow died in 2007 aged 83.

The couple regularly paid their respects to the war dead, visiting war graves overseas and taking part in Armistice Day commemorations.

Mrs Barlow said: “We should thank them very much for giving those years of their lives so people like me could live.”

The Arctic Star medal is awarded for any length of service above the Arctic Circle by members of the British Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy. It is a retrospective award formally approved by The Queen, which began production in early 2013.