Saturday, May 3, 2014
Beer’s last full-time coastguard was modest about his wartime achievements but would have worn his Arctic Star medal with pride.
Ronald Russell died in 2005 at the age of 80, but not before inspiring three generations to take to the seas to keep people safe.
Awarded to World War Two’s ‘unsung heroes’ almost 70 years on, his medal arrived the day before his wife Bette’s funeral and brought welcome relief to their mourning relatives.
“He was a proud man who never really spoke much. He was very quiet and reserved,” said their daughter, Bev Giles.
“Dad wore his medals with pride, but whatever he went through he didn’t talk about it – he was just of that generation.”
The Arctic Star was awarded to members of the British Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy for serving in the Arctic Circle during the World War Two.
The first ones were awarded last year.
Ron’s son-in-laws, Roger Hoare and Nick Driver, made the application, and the medal arrived just in time to be displayed in pride of place at Bette’s funeral.
“I think he would have applied for the Arctic Star if it had been brought in sooner – then maybe we would’ve heard more stories about [his time in the Arctic,” added Bev’s sister, Kaye Cook.
“It’s nice they are being recognised for their efforts – they are the war’s unsung heroes.
“As a family we were so emotional after Mum died. To think it came a few days later made a real difference.”
After leaving the Navy, Ron served with coastguard crews from Falmouth to Northumberland for almost 30 years, ending in Beer.
Bette became Britain’s first woman coastguard, and their four daughters’ husbands have followed him onto the water, as have their grandsons.
Ron’s efforts were repaid when he was diagnosed with dementia in his later years.
“The village was wonderful to him, people would call us if they saw him somewhere unfamiliar,” said Bev.
And when he broke out of his nursing home, coastguard crews from Beer, Sidmouth and Exmouth searched tirelessly through the night, refusing to give up until they knew he was safe and well.
“They said ‘We aren’t giving up – this is Ron Russell we’re talking about’,” said Kaye. “We found him fine and smiling after being out all night. All he wanted was a cup of tea.”
An avid topiarist, he kept the hedges at the former coastguard station ship-shape –literally – and they are still maintained as a popular attraction by the current occupants.
Bev and Kaye’s sisters, Lynne Hoare and Lizz Driver, both also still live in the village.