Arctic hero from Hornchurch adds Russian honour to his medals
18:00 02 August 2014
An 18-year-old signed up for the navy in 1943 in order to see the world. It was a decision that would see him fighting for his life, destroying submarines in foreign oceans.
Ernie Hull, 88, of Berkshire Way, Hornchurch, has been highly commemorated since his Second World War efforts and on Tuesday received the coveted Ushakov Medal for bravery from the Russian government. It is the highest Russian naval award and was named in honour of Admiral Fyodor Ushakov who never lost a battle, or a ship, in 43 engagements and was proclaimed patron saint of the Russian Navy.
The medal was handed to Ernie at a Russian Embassy ceremony in Kensington Gardens for his achievements in the freezing Arctic. The Arctic convoy’s job was to protect merchant ships carrying armaments and food to Russia.
Ernie said he felt that the sailors from merchant ships deserved the medal more than he did, as they were the ones in the most danger and added: “I wanted to see the world, and I thought I would get the chance if I joined the navy.”
While men in other countries received the Ushakov Medal earlier it was a long wait for British sailors. Agreement was only finalised between President Putin and David Cameron in 2012. Last year, Ernie was also one of the veterans who received the retrospective Arctic Star from the British government. He received a Campaign Medal and a Burma Star after the war. Ernie went on three Arctic convoys whilst on a small, manoeuvrable, lightly-armed warship the HMS Bamborough Castle.
Its mission was to search for submarines and eradicate them. On Ernie’s second trip, they destroyed a submarine in the Bering Sea.
“I felt sorry for the men on board, but if we hadn’t got them, they would have got us,” he said.
In 1945, he went back to Portsmouth and joined HMS Nelson. He said: “The war with Germany was over and we headed out east because the war with Japan was still going on. On the way we stopped in Malta. They welcomed us having been besieged for years and bombed by Germany and Italy.”
Next they sailed along the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where they joined an invasion fleet entering Singapore, which was held by Japanese.
“When we were in Trincomalee [in Ceylon],” Ernie remembered, “I was in a small sea boat with armed guards and our job was to stop any Japanese two-man submarines attacking the Nelson. I had to make up a pound-and-a-quarter TNT explosive charges. If we saw any subs we had to throw in the charges and the Marines would have shot them, but we didn’t see any.”
On the way they heard that two bombs had been dropped on Japan over the radio.
“We didn’t know what atomic bombs were then. All we knew is that we didn’t have to fight the Japanese because of them,” he said.
On returning to the UK, Ernie went back to work at van and car maker Ford in Dagenham. He worked there until 1963 then went to Ford at Basildon where they made tractors.
He became a foreman and stayed until he took early retirement in July 1986 when he was 61.
“I worked for 44 years at Ford’s, so when they offered me a good package to retire, I went home to Margaret [his wife] and she told me to take it,” he said.
Ernie was asked to go back as a factory guide, taking visitors around until the end of the ‘90s. “I thoroughly enjoyed being a guide.
“You met lots of different people. It was interesting work.
“Now I’ve been retired for 27 very happy years and in that time I’ve had three lovely granddaughters.”