A 94-YEAR-OLD Navy veteran who helped supply Russian forces and was part of the relief force on the ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been awarded a medal from the Russian Embassy for his service during the Second World War.

John Hughes, who now lives at Cwmbran House Residential Home, was part of a Russian convoy aboard the battleship HMS Duke of York.

He was awarded this medal in recognition of his service and contribution to the war effort, and was presented with the medal by staff at Cwmbran House as part of the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

During his time in the Navy, he worked on the HMS White Bear, HMS Wrangler, and HMS Duke of York.

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The HMS Duke of York at Sydney Harbour, taken by John Hughes while serving on the ship. Picture: John Hughes.

Recalling his time in the Navy, Mr Hughes said: “I was only 15 when I joined up. I lied about my age to get in, but it was all I wanted to do.

“My most vivid memories are during my time served on the Russian convoys. We escorted and protected supply vessels to Murmansk through the frozen Arctic.

“The seas were mountainous, there was hardly any daylight and the temperatures were regularly 40 below freezing.

“We had to use shovels and picks to remove the snow and ice off the deck before breakfast.

“There was the constant threat of attack from the Luftwaffe from above and U-Boats from below. It was described as a frozen hell.

“On December 26, 1943, we made up what was called ‘phase two’ in the battle of North Cape, in pursuit of the Scharnhorst.

“We came under fire with some shells landing dangerously close, but we avoided a direct hit. We eventually caught and sunk her later that evening.

“Survivors were rescued from the freezing seas by HMS Scorpion and transferred to us, probably as were had more supplies.

“They were very pleasant and so happy to be alive. We shared food and drank with them and headed back to Scapa flow. I still have their autographs.”

It was only after the war that Mr Hughes realised how important that day was.

“We took out the German’s ‘lucky’ Scharnhorst, the last boat in her fleet,” he said. “This opened up a safer passage to Russia and altered the course of the war in our favour.”

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John Hughes witnessed the devastation in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped. Picture: John Hughes.

Mr Hughes was also a part of the relief effort in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and saw first hand the devastation caused by the two atomic bombs.

“The damage was unbelievable, it was incredible. I will never forget it,” he said.

“I remember us lifting up pieces of corrugated metal to find whole families sheltering and begging for food.”

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John Hughes was a part of the relief team in Nagasaki in 1945. Picture: John Hughes.

Mr Hughes was in the cities to help repatriate and help survivors of the bombs. He became ill while there, and ended up spending more than six weeks in a Japanese hospital.

Mr Hughes left the Royal Navy in 1950 and worked at Llanwern Steelworks.

He received the Arctic Star Medal in 2013. Upon receiving the medal, he said: “The only shame is so many men who deserved this medal are no longer with us.”

Jackie Kersley and Carol Jones, Mr Hughes’ daughters, said: “We’re proud of our father and the contribution he made in the Navy, like many local servicemen and others who were part of the war effort.

“It was lovely to see his efforts recognised in this way.

“We’d also like to say thank you to the staff at Cwmbran House for taking such loving care of our dad recently, especially in light of the current pandemic.”

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John Hughes married Jean Hartnell in October 1949. Picture: John Hughes

Nathan Kersley, Mr Hughes’ grandson, said: “As a family we are immensely proud of my grandfather’s brave dedication and how lucky he was to return home at the end of it to keep these stories alive, so they are never forgotten.”

Torfaen Council Leader Anthony Hunt said: “We’re proud of local veterans like Mr Hughes who served our country so bravely during World War Two.

“It is fantastic that his efforts have been recognised in this way, so I’d like to send Mr Hughes my congratulations and best wishes.”

“It’s right that we celebrate the achievements of local heroes like Mr Hughes, and I wish him and his family well after hearing the news of this deserved honour,” said Torfaen MP Nick Thomas Symonds.

Torfaen council’s Armed Forces Covenant Champion, Cllr Alan Jones, said: “Given the history of support for the Armed Forces in our communities in Torfaen, we want to celebrate, respect and deliver a fairer deal for Armed Forces Veterans young and old.

“Mr Hughes is a living example of why that’s important, and we thank him for his service.”