Naval war veteran surprised with Arctic Star medal

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Navy News / April 13, 2015

By Darlene Blakeley

Naval war veteran Gerry Butler received an unexpected gift on his 90th birthday. Nearly 70 years after ending his wartime service he has been awarded the Arctic Star.

A military honour unveiled by the Government of the United Kingdom in 2012, the Arctic Star is granted for operational service of any length north of the Arctic Circle from September 3, 1939, to May 8, 1945. It commemorates and recognizes the particular severity of the conditions experienced by those who served in the Arctic during the Second World War, and is available to all Commonwealth forces including those from Canada.

Mr. Butler was overcome by emotion when the medal was delivered to him at his apartment in Montréal March 23. His son-in-law Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Rick Bowes, a 23-year veteran of the Canadian Army who was instrumental in getting the medal for Mr. Butler through Veterans Affairs Canada, joined other members of the family to surprise Mr. Butler with the medal.

“He had tears running down his face,” says LCol Bowes. “You know, these old veterans don’t expect anything. They are humble to the core.”

During the Second World War, many Canadians served on Allied convoys as they sailed across the Arctic Ocean to deliver vital supplies to Russia. Commonly known as the Murmansk Run, ships departed from North American ports and sailed to the northern Soviet Union in an effort to assist them in their fight against Germany.

Mr. Butler joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1942 and served in Her Majesty’s Ship Jamaica through the North and Baltic Seas to Murmansk between June and August 1944.

Mr. Butler is one of a few Canadian naval veterans entitled to wear both the Arctic and Pacific Stars as he also served in Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Uganda.

“He joined Uganda in Charleston, South Carolina at some point in late 1944,” explains LCol Bowes. “The ship then sailed north where it came to be based out of Scapa Flow, Scotland for a short period. From Scapa Flow it sailed south through Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic waters and then transited through Gibraltar on its way to the Pacific theatre of operations. Employed as a Captain’s plotter, Gerry recalls the ship taking part in operations as part of the Battle of Okinawa.”

LCol Bowes says that it has only been in recent years that Mr. Butler has felt comfortable talking about his wartime experiences. “During the last couple of years he has begun telling stories about the war,” he says. “He vividly recalls seeing the rivets on a kamikaze airplane as it flew overhead to bomb an American warship.”

Mr. Butler has also been awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and the War Medal (1939-45) for his wartime service.

After demobilization in early 1946 as an Able Seaman, Mr. Butler returned to his native Montréal, re-commenced his university studies and went on to a long and successful business career. “He is the father of seven children, all of whom are extremely proud of his wartime service,” says LCol Bowes.

All eligible veterans and next-of-kin can apply for the Arctic Star. Applications can be found online by visiting www.veterans.gc.ca.