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Thornton-in-Craven war hero, 91, gets Arctic Star
10:00am Friday 13th September 2013 in News
As Norman Riches’ comrades scrambled for their lives when their aircraft carrier was hit by a torpedo from a German U-Boat in the Barents Sea, the 21-year-old resigned himself to his fate.
With the bulkheads to the mess room locked down and he and his fellow sailors trapped as the water rose, Norman could see no way of escape, so climbed into his upper bunk facing death.
Then a “miracle” happened – in the dimness, he saw a chink of light above his head and then shortly afterwards the voices of other colleagues, Canadian pilots and air crew on HMS Nabob, who had broken through in a desperate rescue bid.
As the water continued to pour in, they managed to grab Norman, who was wearing just his shorts and a webbing belt, and haul him through the jagged ceiling, badly cutting his legs as they did so. The rest of his comrades in the messroom drowned.
It was August 22, 1944, and Norman was an armourer on the anti-submarine carrier which usually escorted convoys to the Societ Union but on this occasion was returning from a strike at the German battleship, Tirpitz.
Almost 70 years later Norman, now 91 and in a residential home at Thornton-in-Craven, has just received his Arctic Star. He is one of just a few men still alive to get the medal which has come following pressure to honour the people who served on some of the most dangerous missions in the Second World War.
He has kept his memories of his time as a sailor in a photograph album, treasured by his daughter Susan Allan, whose tenacity ensured he got his medal. The album has a special place in her heart because among the black and white images, including one of her dad loading an aircraft, is a slightly crumpled ten shilling note.
“Apart from what he was wearing, that was the only possession he had on him. It meant so much to him that he’s kept it all this time. It upset me a lot when I learned what he had to face,” said Susan, who lives in Elslack.
“He is a modest man and for many years I wasn’t aware of what he had done in the war. It was only recently he told me about it and I learned of the courage of him and his colleagues on those Arctic convoys.”
Norman was training as an engineer in his hometown of Cleckheaton when he joined up serving in the Arctic convoys until the crippling of the Nabob. It listed, but never sank and was towed back to Scapa Flow.
Norman later won the Burma Star for serving in the Far East and was finally posted to the carrier HMS Attacker joining the flotilla of war ships to face the Japanese in August 1945. The dropping of the atomic bomb forced the Japanese to surrender.
Norman, who was a textile manager after the war, travelling around the country in his job, eventually came back to settle with his wife Gladys in Cleckheaton.
n Norman has also been informed he is eligible for Russia’s Ushakov Medal for his work in the Arctic convoys. It was announced at the time of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to London in June. A special decree is due to be signed by the President to confer the honour and the medals sent out.
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