WW2 honour for Harrogate man who crossed the oceans

A Harrogate man has been honoured and thanked by the Russian government for his selfless contribution to the naval crossings during WWII.

Thursday, 1st December 2016, 10:23 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 11:51 am
Dennis at home with his wife Freda, holds up his Ushakov medal proudly

Dennis Petty, 91, volunteered to join the navy in 1943 at just 18-years-old, and spent much of his time in the forces at sea, crossing the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic.

Facing the hardships of wartime, the Arctic weather and enemy fire, Dennis was among the crews dutied with escorting ships to give to Russia, and to transfer goods between allied countries.

But having defeated the odds against him at war, Dennis has been thanked for his service and awarded the Russian Ushakov medal.

Dennis said: “If you got swept overboard or if the ship got sunk by the Germans on the convoys you didn’t last so long, it was very cold, and if you didn’t do that, you spent your time chipping ice off the forecastle at the front of ship.

“This medal is a way of the Russians saying thank you very much for all your efforts and to Winston Churchill for promoting the convoys.”

On his first mission in the navy, Dennis was posted to Northern Ireland onboard a Corvette. He said: “we got to Northern Ireland and we had white bread when you couldnt get it in this country, you could only get the national loaf. It was a real treat.”

In his time of duty, Dennis sailed on a number of ships including a Vanquisher and the Whimbrel, which took some 300 men into Russia.

But Dennis’ most outstanding memory of his time in the navy is when he was posted to Cherbourg peninsula for the D-Day landings.

He said: “We came back from from the Arctic convoy thinking we were coming back for a weeks leave. Instead we were sent down to Milford Haven in South Wales and while we were there the HMS Rodney and the HMS Nelson sailed into the dock.

"We got up the next day and they’d gone to escort for the D-Day landing and we had to go the following day."

Not long after the war ended and Dennis had to go back home to Yeadon where his family needed him to work at their mill.

When much cheaper fabrics began to be imported from Italy, the mill closed down and Dennis went to study textiles at Leeds University.

After some time trying to find work, he went on to join the Muscular Dystrophy charity group, where he met his wife Freda and the pair were married in 1982.

During his time with the charity, Dennis was responsible for setting up an annual northern Muscular Dystrophy conference at Harrogate's Cairn Hotel.

In 1991 Dennis retired after a life dedicated to others.