Government issues Arctic Stars, 70 years on
Reporter Alex Turner
Charles ‘Joe’ Cook has lived on the same street in Knowle West since the 1930s – yet there can’t be many Bristol residents who’ve had adventures to top his. And most of us might prefer to keep it that way.
There’ve been plenty of complaints about the chilly spring this year. But Mr Cook, 89, is one of a dwindling group of heroes who braved truly biting temperatures on the Arctic convoys of the Second World War – and are now finally being honoured with their own medal, the Arctic Star.
“There were a lot of [local] people going to war,” recalls Mr Cook, who’s been known as Joe since early childhood because of fallings-out between his father and grandfather, also called Charles. “I was worried the war would be over by Christmas, and I was going to miss it… a few years later I was still in the navy!”
Conditions aboard Mr Cook’s ship could be incredibly harsh. He can remember watching boiling water turn to ice instantly on contact with the steel deck, and sailors often had to hack icicles off the guns.
It’s the lighter side of life at sea he prefers to look back on now, though, such as the time he scared the wits out of his shipmates by accidentally blowing up a can of beans he’d left in an oven while he went to take watch.
“There were no doors left on the cooker,” he chuckles. “My mates heard a loud boom, all the lights went out and they expected water to come in at any minute.”
Staying on the subject of food, Mr Cook describes Navy sausages that looked “like dumbbells” – because they only had a scrap of meat at each end, with not much in the middle.
Mr Cook’s description seems appropriate. Having survived his wife of more than half a century (she died nine years ago), he still works out at the local gym – and has the muscles on his tattooed arms to prove it – despite having suffered a recent, serious bout of pneumonia that had doctors fearing for his life.
“I was up in bed, almost dead – the ambulance men got to me just in time,” he says. “But here I am, still causing trouble.”