Arctic convoy: Commander Eddie Grenfell’s story

COMMANdEr Eddie Grenfell was a young Royal Navy radio operator when he was sent to serve on the Merchant Navy CAM ship the SS Empire Lawrence in May 1942 as it set sail on a convoy to Murmansk.

The ship carried the communications for the convoy, making it the target of enemy aircraft.

On 26 May, he climbed the mast under fire in freezing conditions to fix communications. He was told he would be decorated for his bravery, but events meant the medal never came his way.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The next afternoon, six bombers attacked the Empire Lawrence, scoring five direct hits and triggering an explosion in the ammunition-filled holds that turned the vessel into a gigantic fireball, killing all but one of the officers.

Cdr Grenfell said: “I remember it as if it were just yesterday. Flying through the air surrounded by large chunks of steel, one that looked like the ship’s funnel.

“I hit the water and went down very deep, and when I opened my eyes, I found myself faced with a swirling black turmoil instead of the green sea I had expected.

“With my lungs close to bursting, I prayed, even argued with my Maker.

“Something was hanging on my right arm. I gave a heave, and brought to the surface the body of someone impossible to recognise. A piece of metal, still there, had almost halved his head in two.”

Cdr Grenfell, who went on to lead the campaign for an Arctic Star to be created, was rescued from the sea and spent months recovering in a Russian hospital near Murmansk within the sound of enemy fire.