Arctic convoy veteran dies weeks after receiving Star

A VETERAN Royal Navy gunner who survived the treacherous Arctic convoys of the Second World War died just weeks after receiving his medal from the Ministry of Defence.

Tony Birmingham, 85, passed away in St Michael’s Hospice on July 14 a few hours after seeing his close friend Noel Schofield.

He had been suffering from prostrate cancer for several years.

Noel had written to the MoD earlier this year to ask for an Arctic Star medal for Tony.

Tony received his medal while he was at home in May and it took pride of place alongside his Distinguished Service Medal.

Noel said: “I was so pleased that Tony received his medal before he passed away.

“It was so pleased to get it. He risked his life for his country many times and it’s a shame he had to wait so many years for it.”

Around 60 people attended his funeral service at Hastings Crematorium on Tuesday.

A Royal Navy ensign was placed on his coffin.

Friend Colin Dann read out a eulogy. He said: “My first contact with Tony was when he joined Freemasonry and the Lodge of St George in October 1981. Tony became an active member and went on to look after members who were poorly and the widows of former members. He took on the role of charity steward for 15 years until last year when his health started to seriously deteriorate. Tony was a true Englishman and a patriot and appreciated anything to do with St George. Some of us older members used to receive a card from him on April 23rd to celebrate the day.”

Tony did not marry and his only surving relative is a niece living in New South Wales, Australia who is planning to come to Hastings to scatter his ashes at the crematorium.

Tony’s colourful career began in 1941 when he joined the Royal Navy as a rating.

He joined HMS Kent, the battle cruiser that carried Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden safely to and from Murmansk in Russia to meet Joseph Stalin in December 1941.

Over the next few years he helped protect the convoy missions to Murmansk which delivered vital supplies to the Russians in their fight against the Germans.

Tony went on to serve on several war ships including HMS Belfast which was involved in the Battle of the North Cape in December 1943 helping sink the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst.

He served in Burma on HMS Implacable and HMS Anson as part of the Pacific fleet and earned the Distinguished Service medal for helping to resuce American pilots after they crashed in stormy weather. After re-occupation of Hong Kong he was part of the RN shore patrols.

In 1950 he served in the Korean War on HMS Belfast and HMS Constance and the Suez Crisis.

He retired in 1965 as a chief petty officer and worked as a domestic service manager at the Old Royal East Sussex Hospital until he retired in 1992.