Tears of joy of Arctic Star hero widow
09:44 10 February 2014
The widow of a Royal Navy hero has become one of the first to receive a new medal honouring her husband’s wartime heroics.
Brixington’s Joyce Kendrick, 87, finally received The Arctic Star last week, to mark the wartime contribution of her husband John Edward Kendrick.
John, who died two years ago, had fought for 67 years for his role in the Arctic Convoys to Russia during World War Two to be recognised.
Joyce, from Warneford Gardens, said: “When I received the medal, the tears were flowing.
“I am so proud of him.”
John Kendrick, DSM, MID, served on at least seven different vessels between 1939 and 1945 – three of which were torpedoed and sunk.
Their mission was to provide cover for convoys sailing to Murmansk in Russia using ancient World War One technology – convoys laden with food and supplies.
However, it was on the SS Empire Lawrence, a Defence Equipped Merchant ship, that he experienced the full horrors of Arctic Convoy duty.
The convoy comprised 36 ships and left Iceland on May 21, 1942.
In 2007 John told the Journal: “The pack ice was forcing us nearer to the Norwegian coast, and the convoy came in range for the Germans to press home more attacks.
“When the Germans arrived they were met with such a heavy barrage it prevented them from coming in too low.”
Although other vessels were hit, it was obvious that the SS Empire Lawrence was the main target.
“Our merchant seamen helpers were magnificent loading the guns and, as the bombs exploded under our stern, the ship shuddered.”
Then one German pilot dropped a bomb near the bridge - with devastating consequences.
“When it happened the stern rose and, as the captain sounded ‘abandon ship’, we made our way to the lifeboats.”
But, as John was attempting to lower the lifeboat from the sinking ship, the bombers returned and strafed the ship from bow to stern – the stern exploded and broke off from the midships.
But it happened so quickly, John didn’t realise he was standing on the fall rope: “It had wrapped round my ankle and pulled me into the water at a terrific rate.”
But, because John had been underwater, he hadn’t realised the Germans had returned - and had mercilessly machine-gunned the survivors crying for help in thefreezing waters.
John then shot to the surface like a cork, and found himself clinging onto a box:
“While I was floating my hands were becoming colder and colder, and I realised I couldn’t hold on much longer.”
He lost consciousness, and by some miracle found himself on board the HMS Hyderabad- she had returned to pick up any survivors.
“It was a courageous decision to return,” said John. “They put themselves at risk.
“Now I think of all the men who perished without historic recognition.”
Joyce said: “When I realised what it was like for him, it just broke my heart.
“Crew stripped him naked and put him on the deck to thaw him out so he didn’t get frostbite.”
She admits that it took so long for the medal to come through she feared she would not get to see it: “I told them that it would be posthumous to me before too long.
“He died before he even knew they were going to get the medal.
“I’m just glad I have lived to see it.”