Chilling accounts of heroism on the high seas earned the Arctic Medal

A cemetery historian has received his father’s posthumous medal for his service in World War Two.

Mike Guilfoyle, the vice-chairman of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries, recently received the Arctic Star medal on behalf of his late father who served on the HMS Victorious that escorted merchant navy ships taking vital war supplies to Russia.

Mike’s father, Denis Guilfoyle, was born in Lancashire in 1920 and worked as a compositor in the printing industry.

He played rugby for Oldham and Huddersfield before he volunteered for service in the Royal Marines at the outbreak of World War 11 in 1939.

The Arctic Star

Denis took part in the famous search for the German battleship, Bismarck, which was sunk in 1941.

The actor Kenneth More also did war service on the ship and went on to star in a movie about it called Sink The Bismarck!

Denis’s medal was awarded on the grounds that he was on a number of Arctic convoys escorting merchant navy ships taking vital war supplies to Russia.

In particular convoy PQ 14, which endured mountainous seas and icy weather to compete with U-boat and Luftwaffe attacks, later described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”.

Denis also served on several convoys to supply beleaguered Malta then under siege from Axis air attacks, including being a part of the famous Operation Pedestal convoy to the Island in 1942.

There, he was under attack from the Luftwaffe with flak dominating the seascape but described his experience as “cruising in the Mediterranean”.

HMS Victorious then saw service in the Far East, including surviving a Kamikaze attack at Okinawa.

Mike, said: “Of the many guided walks I have undertaken over recent years one in particular always seemed to evoke a wistful nostalgia.

“That was on the maritime history of the cemeteries, which included stopping at the graves of some of those remembered on headstones lost at sea in the two World Wars.

“Sadly I was unable to share my recent historical finds with my late father who died in his birth town of Oldham in 1985.

Mike holding his fathers medal

“But on returning from the walk, I would proudly look up at a photograph of him on the wall at home when he was being inspected by King George in 1941 aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious on which he served as a Sergeant in the Royal Marines during World War Two.

“My father then returned to civilian life working until his retirement for the Manchester Guardian and Evening News as a printer.

“When he died in 1985 all his war medals were subsequently lost.

“So when the Arctic Star Medal was instituted in 2012, for those who served on the Arctic convoys, north of the Arctic Circle, I was determined to apply for a posthumous medal to recognise his service to his country and for the heroism that he would seldom talk about.

“Other than to say occasionally that chipping off the ice which covered the ship in a force 10 winter gale en route to Russia with incoming enemy planes expected anytime made him better appreciate what he had and what he had fought for to make this country safer for all those fleeing tyranny.”


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