War hero Gordon Kilner is used to having to wait for his rewards in life.
After almost 70 years of campaigning, the decorated navy veteran is set to be honoured for his heroism during one of the harshest missions of the second world war, the Arctic convoy.
He is among 200 living veterans to be awarded the Arctic Star, for the convoy described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”.
However, the wait is nothing out of the ordinary for the pensioner, of West Avenue, Filey, who married his long-lost childhood sweetheart Pauline after over 60 years of separation brought on by the war.
“I was from Barnsley, and she was from Rotherham, and I used to take her to school in Sheffield on the bus everyday,” recalled Mr Kilner, 88.
He then joined the navy, and was thrown headfirst into one of the savagest battles of the conflict, his life constantly threatened by torpedo attacks, a sitting target in the merciless Arctic waters.
“When you’re young, you don’t think that much about being torpedoed - we were just trying to survive day to day.”
Many perished during the convoy, but he survived. However, despite writing to Pauline and sending her clothing coupons, the pair sadly lost touch. Both happily married until their partners died in 2001.
And it was a chance encounter that reunited them.
“My cousin lives in Filey, and said that they had just been for a talk at the historical society, where a lady was talking about the war, and she mentioned how she received clothing coupons from a man in the navy.”
That generous sailor was in fact Gordon.
After some gentle nudging from his cousin, Gordon eventually plucked up the courage to get back in touch with his first love.
“I had a few whiskies for courage, picked up the phone and called her.
“I said ‘I think you owe me 25 clothing coupons.’”
In 2005, the pair married, and have been living in Filey since, with Gordon moving over from Lancashire, where, he joked, he was carrying out “missionary” work.
And now, seven decades after the horrific conflict ended, he is finally set to receive the medal from the British government, despite already receiving four honours from the Russians.
However, the award is bittersweet, Mr Kilner adding: “I’m pleased to have it, but you think of the thousands who died since the war – it’s a great disappointment that they won’t be there.”
Around 14,000 ships made the treacherous voyage to the Soviet Union on the convoy, and Mr Kilner described the cruel conditions the brave troops faced.
“It was hard,’ said Mr Kilner.
“We would work four hours on and four hours off, and when you were on duty, you would just think ‘good, I only have three hours left to go’.
“We were just living hour to hour, and you could never undress as you were always ready to be on call.
“But you just got on with it - if anything bad happened, it happened.”
Many historians have stated that the convoys role in the conflict has been grossly undervalued, as the ships, bringing life-saving supplies as well as weapons, kept Russian troops in the war when Britain was in grave danger of losing it.