Published: July 6, 2013
Hospice brings war veterans together 70 years after Arctic combat

Two war veterans from Burnham-On-Sea and Weston who are to be awarded the Arctic Star medal have been inadvertently reunited at a local hospice.

John Walker, 93, from Southern Lea Road in Burnham and John Wyatt, 89, from Weston, both served in the Arctic Circle with the Royal Navy in World War II.

The two gentlemen did not know each other before attending Weston Hospicecare's Day Hospice, but have now become firm friends.

John Walker joined before the war broke out and served for 15 years as an (AB) Torpedoman. He joined the Crew on the HMS Zambesi, a destroyer, in 1944 as part of an escort convoy. They were dispatched as an escort for a Russian Convoy. On the way they were sent to evacuate the population of Soroy, a small island just off Norway, which was under attack by the Germans.

John, who remembers the experience well, said: "We left Scapa Flow and were told we were heading to Russia. There was only one duffle coat to share, once we finished our watch we would hand it to the next shipmate so he could keep warm on his watch!"

"We picked up around 500 women and children from Soroy where German soldiers had destroyed the village and captured their men. We took them to empty convoy ships. Unfortunately, one of the ships holding the evacuees ran into engine trouble shortly afterwards and was attacked by German aircraft. We circled back for those who were left and got them securely on to another ship for them to be brought to safety in Russia."

"Two days later, in the early hours, we ran into rough weather with waves of about 40ft. A piece of the ship’s equipment broke loose in the early hours and we were sent out to fix it when one of the lads got washed over-board. I’d lost shipmates before on my first ship The HMS Isis. One in particular was a good friend and when he died I wrote to his sister. We kept in contact via letters and sending pictures for four years. We finally met and everything clicked, we fell in love and married."

"It's nice to be recognised for what we did because it was a hard life. We were one of the poorest Navies and we had to make our own food and mend our own clothes – but I liked it, it was a good life."

Mr Wyatt joined the Navy in 1942 as a medic on the HMS Smiter. He said: "I only did one run up to the Arctic Circle. I remember it was freezing, so cold that sometimes your eyelids froze."

"It was a hard life, you did your job and I was one of the lucky ones who made it home again. I’m glad to receive the Arctic Star Medal, but it’s a shame it didn’t come sooner as there aren’t very many of us to accept it now. It was great to meet John, it's nice to have someone to talk to not only about what we are dealing with now, but also to exchange stories about the war."

Irene Stewart, a sister at the day hospice, said: "It is humbling to know John and John, men who went through so much for their country, and it is fascinating to listen to their stories of difficulties so few of us can even imagine. It's fantastic to see them finally getting the recognition they deserve after all these years of waiting."

Pictured: Top, John Walker (left) and John Wyatt who have been reunited


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