Arctic hero gets his medal at last

Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth William Cobley receives the Artic Star from Sir John Evans DL

Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth William Cobley receives the Artic Star from Sir John Evans DL - Credit: Archant

A WORLD War Two veteran has finally received recognition for his efforts in the freezing waters north of the Arctic Circle – 70 years after serving there.

Now aged 99, Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth William Cobley, who lives in Ottery, was awarded the Arctic Star for his part in a military operation that Winston Churchill once called ‘the worst journey in the world’.

The Arctic Star was introduced this year after a long-running campaign to recognise members of the Royal and Merchant Navy who served north of the Arctic Circle.

Around 3,000 sailors and merchant seamen lost their lives delivering supplies to Russia and more than 100 civilian and military ships were lost.

Lt Cdr Cobley saw action in the seas north of the Arctic Circle between 1943 and 1945 as a gunnery officer on the battleship HMS Duke of York.

The Duke of York was the flagship of a fleet tasked with supporting supply convoys between Iceland and Russia, and although the fleet was spared the worst of German air attacks, they were under constant threat from submarines.

The sailors not only faced the danger posed by enemy planes and ships, they were also fighting a daily battle against the elements.

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During the winter months, sailors had to get used to just an hour or two of daylight each day, and in the sub-zero conditions sea water would freeze as it lashed on to the deck.

Mr James Cobley, Lt Cdr Cobley’s nephew, said his uncle had talked about climbing the mast to spot for enemy ships.

“It must have been terrible with the ship rocking about in those seas,” he said. “The conditions they had to endure were horrendous.”

In December 1943, the fleet, which was already suffering heavy losses from submarines, came under additional threat from the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

The battlecruiser was intercepted by the British fleet on December 26, 1943, damaged by the Duke of York’s gunfire and finally sunk by torpedoes from the cruisers and destroyers.

For his part in directing the Duke of York’s guns during the battle, Lt Cdr Cobley was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross by King George VI.

Lt Cdr Cobley retired from the Navy in 1959 and moved to West Hill, where he worked for McCabe Electronics in Ottery. He will celebrate his 100th birthday in May next year.

“I’m so proud of him,” said Mr Cobley. “This award has been a long time coming, but it’s great to see his service recognised.”