War hero recalls Arctic missions

A Marlpool war veteran is to become the second man from the area to be honoured for his brave role during one of World War Two’s toughest missions.

Dennis Yates, of Buxton Avenue only learned that he could apply for The Arctic Star, awarded to those who served on the Arctic convoys to Russsia, when he read the story of fellow Navy man George Eyre in the Ripley & Heanor News a fortnight ago.

Dennis, now 90, served on the HMS Scylla charged with protecting Russian merchant ships running supplies to north Russia to aid the Allied Forces there.

Dennis was a shipwright - tasked with repairing damaged parts of the ship during conflict.

Despite already being awarded a medal by the Russian Government in 1994 for his role, Britain has not recognised the fearless veterans of the convoys until now.

Dennis said: “I don’t know why they have only just decided about it.

“There were thousands of us, but they reckon there’s only a few hundred of us left now.”

Like George Eyre, of Codnor, who featured in the News on May 2, Dennis can recall his time on the convoys labelled by British war leader Winston Churchill as the “worst journey in the world”, with precision.

He even remembers shaking hands with the Prime Minister himself when Mr Churchill came aboard the Scylla at Scapa Flow near Scotland.

King George also boarded the vessel to wish the crew well before it departed.

“I used to have a photograph of the King speaking to the next chap along from me,” Dennis said. “But it’s gone now sadly!”

When action stations were called, Dennis’s role was in damage control. He was a trained joiner, having worked at Vic Hallams in Langley Mill, and joined the Scylla in September 1942 before making a five-week crossing of the Arctic as part of the PQ18 convoy.

The Scylla was mainly charged with providing support to the aircraft carrier Avenger as it travelled to Minsk and back - just south of the Arctic ice flows.

“They would attack us from nowhere,” he recalls.

“The convoy was only doing two knots when they came across us.

He added: “It was very scary out there, when you have them throwing torpedoes at you, you haven’t got much chance.

“I remember one of the merchant ships was sunk.

“The medical officer on board said if you were in the water for more than a minute, that would be it.”

But Dennis, who was already married to wife Hilda before he served in the convoys, lived to tell the tale.

After serving in Africa and Solerno during the remainder of the war, he returned to Vic Hallams for a short while before another stint in the Royal Navy on the isle of Bute.

From 1954 he worked in the joinery trade, retiring aged 65.

The great, great grandfather had three children with Hilda, who sadly passed away 18 years ago.

Dennis, who said he planned to get in touch with fellow veteran George Eyre when the News spoke to him has informed the Government of his role in the war and is expected to receive his medal soon.