Bill Georgeson was called to duty by the British Royal Navy in 1942.
The following year, still only 18 years old, the Scotsman was at sea aboard the HMS Domett, embroiled in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Last year, the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin honoured the 88-year-old Comox resident with the Ushakov Medal, in appreciation of courage and bravery displayed during the Murmansk Run — a convoy route in the Arctic Ocean where navy seamen delivered war materials to the Soviet Union.
“Ushakov apparently was to the Russian people, under the days of the czars, what Nelson was to the British people,” said Georgeson, a member of the Comox Valley branch of the Royal Canadian Naval Association. “The award was to do with bringing much-needed supplies up to and around the top of Norway and Sweden, and down into northern Russia, way above the Arctic Circle.”
The supplies were then sent to the defence of Stalingrad.
“If Stalingrad had fallen, Hitler would have had his hands on the rich oil wells in that part of the country. He needed oil for his military regime.
“This is part of the Lease-Lend of the Atlantic Charter that Mr. (Franklin) Roosevelt and Mr. (Winston) Churchill had put together when they met in Newfoundland in 1941.”
When the landing in northern Russia was deemed a success, Georgeson was commissioned to a new group of destroyers sent out to join the British Pacific fleet in the Far East. But by the time his ship reached India, the Americans had dropped the atomic bomb.
“As a young man I saw a lot of the world, and was lucky that I survived it,” he said.
Georgeson doesn’t recall being frightened. Of bigger concern was keeping warm and dry, and keeping the ship afloat.
“It took a long while for the Soviets to show appreciation,” he said. “They themselves were up to their necks in it. It probably was later on they realized how important it was for us to get through and get them the supplies they needed.
“And of course, politically, Churchill was still uncertain as to where the Soviets would be going after the war. They had a foothold in Europe being the first in Berlin. That got the politicians all upset.”
Georgeson has previously received medals of valour from the offices of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Both are called Patriotic War medals.
He is awaiting another award from British Prime Minister David Cameron — the Arctic Star — a newly-created medal honouring veterans of the vital Arctic convoys that helped keep Russia in the Second World War.
“There’s very few of us left,” Georgeson said. “There’s only 61 they’ve been able to track down because we’re all in our late-80s or early-90s.”
It’s a timely honour, considering the Battle of the Atlantic is celebrated on the first Sunday every May at Marina Park in Comox. May 5 will mark the 70th anniversary of the Russian convoy mission.
Georgeson hails from Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland. He emigrated to Canada in 1948. He joined his sister in Chase, B.C. then worked for the Department of Defence in Kamloops. He later worked as a purchasing agent at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria and then at the Campbell River Hospital.
He and wife Joy founded the Anderton Therapeutic Gardens and the local Celtic Club. He served seven years on the Comox Recreation Commission, and has received a Paul Harris Fellowship Award from Comox Rotary. Another feather in his cap came in 1986 when he and Joy were among 100 people invited to travel with the Prince and Princess of Wales to the opening of Expo in Vancouver.