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Young detectives ensure belated medal for their WW2 great-grandfather

Young detectives ensure belated medal for their WW2 great-grandfather
25 October 2023
Detective work by two youngsters ensured their great-grandfather was finally recognised for his WW2 naval deeds.

A family summer holiday project led brother and sister Edward and Alice Botting to John Townsend, who served extensively with the Royal Navy in World War 2, especially in the Arctic.

He never received specific recognition for his time on what Churchill called ‘the worst journey in the world’, escorting convoys to northern Russia.

When campaign medals were awarded to participants at the war’s end, none was struck for the Arctic convoys. Despite different objectives – to help sustain the Soviet Union’s war effort against Nazi Germany – the Arctic theatre was included in the broader Battle of the Atlantic, whose veterans were awarded the Atlantic Star.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the Government finally awarded the Arctic Star to veterans following years of campaigning – but the decision came too late for the Townsend family; the WW2 veteran had sadly been dead more than two decades.

John from Herne Hill in London joined the Royal Navy in 1940 and was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve the following year. After the war he joined the Navy full-time, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander.

When Edward, nine, and seven-year-old Alice came across their great-grandfather’s story, they set about rectifying the omission, reviewing original correspondence, service records, photographs and naval charts found in the two family homes in London and Gosport.

They identified that their great-grandfather had served in cruiser HMS Naiad and battleship HMS King George V inside the Arctic Circle.

They submitted their research, supported by documentary evidence, to the Ministry of Defence, which agreed that John Townsend qualified for the Arctic Star.

The medal was formally presented to the children – in the presence of their parents Daniel and Sarah and great uncle Andrew, who lives in Gosport – at HMS President, the headquarters of the Royal Naval Reserve in the capital, by Commodore Jo Adey, Commander of the Maritime Reserves.

She spent some time with the children, listening to their story, talking about their experience and that of their great-grandfather, before surprising them with the medal.

The children were also invited to be part of HMS President's sunset ceremony on a glorious evening looking out across the Thames and Tower Bridge.

“People who served in the Arctic had to face very tough conditions, so they must have been very brave,” said Edward and Alice, who live in London.
“We are very pleased that our summer holiday project helped our great-granddad to get this medal for what he did.
“We never had the chance to meet him, but we think he'd be very proud. It was a privilege to have the medal presented to us at HMS President, and a really memorable occasion.”

Commodore Jo added:

“This is an incredible story spanning generations of the Botting and Townsend families' history. That two young people were able to produce such irrefutable evidence that their great-grandfather had served in the Arctic Convoys and then make the Ministry of Defence take action, 80 years later, is wonderful. 

“The Royal Naval Reserve – and the ship’s company of HMS President – are honoured to be able to present the Arctic Star to recognise John Townsend’s service, and to reward our young detectives for their work.”

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