“I was one of the lucky ones” - WWII hero given eighth medal

NADV 1508041AM John Hebden. (1508041AM)
NADV 1508041AM John Hebden. (1508041AM)

A Royal Navy Veteran received a special gift on his 93rd birthday, when the Russian government awarded him a Russian medal as grateful thanks for his efforts in the Second World War.

John ‘Jack’ Hebden from Starbeck was presented with a Ushakov medal from the Russian government, more than 70 years after his role in the Arctic Convoys.

Mr Hebden was a Royal Navy gunner placed on merchant ships during the Second World War and he was in two Arctic Convoys to Russia.

The great-grandfather said: “I was lucky, I was one of them that made it back, I was in the right place at the right time when so many others weren’t.

“When I look at this medal I think of all them poor lads that didn’t get home. For us it was just what was needed, we just got on and did what we needed to do.”

Mr Hebden was just 19-years-old when he joined the Royal Navy in 1942 after spending years as a cadet in the Air Defence Cadet Corps.

After undergoing training at a converted Butlins holiday camp, Mr Hebden joined the SS Monkleigh and later served on Fort Yukon.

The Arctic Convoys escorted merchant ships delivering vital supplies to Russia. More than 3,000 serviceman died on the dangerous missions.

Winston Churchill once described the route the convoys took as the worst journey in the world as sailors faced trecherous weather.

Mr Hebden said: “It was November and December time, I remember all you could see was white snow all around, there was no difference between land and sea, you daren’t touch anything without gloves or your hands would stick.”

Mr Hebden’s daughter Janet Mason, 67, and son-in-law Terry Mason, arranged for the medal to be sent out as a surprise for his 93rd birthday.

Mrs Mason said: “I am just so proud of him, I really am, he was just 19 when he joined.”

Mr Mason added: “If people like him hadn’t done what they did, we could have lost to the Germans.”

After leaving the Navy, Mr Hebden met his late wife, Marion who died six years ago, and had a variety of jobs including managing a fish and chip shop, a greengrocers and working as a foreman in a factory.

The Ushakov is Mr Hebden’s eighth medal and he was also recently awarded the Arctic Star from the British government.