Medal for Arctic war service

Valentine 'Val' Burn with his Arctic Star.
Valentine 'Val' Burn with his Arctic Star.

An Alnwick man has recently received an Arctic Star, following his service on the Arctic convoys during the Second World War.

Valentine Burn, known as Val, joined the Royal Marines in 1940 and served until December 1945.

The Arctic Medal awarded to Valentine Burn, from Alnwick.

The Arctic Medal awarded to Valentine Burn, from Alnwick.

His wartime adventures took him to North Africa and the Mediterranean, the US and Australia as well as the Arctic convoys, which saw vital supplies delivered to the Soviet Union. The Russian embassy is also planning to give out medals for service on the convoys.

And the 96-year-old great-grandfather can still clearly remember his experiences during the war as well as his time in Alnwick going back to the 1920s.

Joining the Royal Marines as a 23-year-old in 1940, he was part of a unit of 44 young men. By the end of the war, five years later, there were only nine of them left.

From January 1941 to May 1944, Mr Burn served on HMS Furious, a battlecruiser that eventually began a steady routine of ferrying aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

One trip heading for Malta saw them accompanying 14 merchant vessels.

About two hours past Gibraltar, German and Italian bombers attacked, sinking 11 of the merchant ships.

“I think we were a very lucky ship,” said Mr Burn. “We did just over 200,000 miles during the time we were on her, mainly betweeen the Mediterranean and Britain.

“Then in ‘43 and ‘44, we did the Arctic convoys.

“I was part of the twin four-inch gun crew. When we were on the upper deck, we weren’t allowed to work for more than 20 minutes.

“We had a little hammer to chip the ice off the rigging and handrails and things, because they reckoned if the ice didn’t get knocked off, the ship would be become top-heavy and overturn.”

HMS Furious was also involved in the invasion of North Africa and Mr Burn remembers the battleships firing their 14” guns from further out at sea and hearing the shells whistling overhead as they aimed at targets on the shore.

Mr Burn was born in Byker, but his family had moved to Alnwick in 1920 as his father worked on the railway. After the war, he worked at the WHSmith bookstall at Alnwick Station until it closed in 1968.

“They closed and I didn’t want to move from Alnwick, so I took over the business and moved to 15 Bondgate Without”, he said. “I had a good business there.”

And all these years after he first moved to the town, Mr Burn says he still enjoys living here. “I don’t get about much anymore, but I have good neighbours.”