A chance phone call has led Lithgow's Rosemary Stanley on a journey that has helped honour the remarkable wartime experiences of her late husband in the frozen Arctic Circle.
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Mrs Stanley had called close friends Jan and Jack Mitchell, to wish Jack a happy birthday - but she got the date wrong.
Despite the mistaken birthday wish, Mrs Mitchell was pleased to hear from Mrs Stanley.
She insisted on telling her friend about an SBS show called 'My Grandparent's War' where celebrity actor Kristin Scott-Thomas was relating her grandfather's deployments in the Royal Navy during World War II.
The show focused on the missions of a Royal Navy ship, escorting essential supply convoys of merchant ships from Scapa Flow in Scotland through the Arctic Circle to Russia.
Mrs Mitchell knew that Mrs Stanley's husband Alec, who died in 2001, had served as Midshipman in the Royal British Navy at the age of 18 during WWII, and had been in the Arctic Circle.
There was constant threat of torpedo attacks as they were a lucrative enemy target and the route went close to the German U-Boat base. These missions were described as 'the most dangerous journey of the war' by Churchill.
The show grabbed Mrs Mitchell's attention because it mentioned the lobbying for the Arctic Star Medal for veterans who served on those missions between 1939 and 1945.
Mrs Mitchell remembered Alec had told her that he sailed through the Arctic Circle when he served and she suggested to Mrs Stanley that he may be eligible for the medallion.
"I watched the show and agreed that he may qualify because in 1944 he commenced his service on the HMS Rodney that had indeed escorted one of these convoys," Mrs Stanley said.
She said she had evidence of his travels with the possession of Alec's Midshipman's journal.
"As part of his role as junior officer he had written in it every day," she said.
The journal includes recounts of Alec's days in the navy as well as hand drawn maps of one of the Scapa Flow, Scotland to Vaenga Bay, Russia convoy journeys and the torpedo attack on their return trip where two merchant ships were struck.
A piece of the journal reads:
"September 29th Friday, I had just changed into games kit to play deck hockey, when two underwater explosions were heard. On going up on deck I saw that two merchantmen on the starboard flank of the convoy had been torpedoed. Destroyers raced to the spot and began dropping depth chargers. Two rescue ships also steered towards the stricken ships. One of the merchantmen had to be sunk by our own forces but the other was last reported as proceeding at 6 knots. One of the 'Swordfish' was flown off after the torpedoing and it used an assisted take-off by having a certain type of rocket slung under the wings. Incidentally the game of deck hockey was cancelled."
"September 30th Saturday, It was learnt today that both the ships which were torpedoed yesterday had sunk."
Mrs Stanley said Alec's journal was a true family treasure.
"It's amazing that we get to relive his moments through his handwriting," she said.
With the help of her family, Mrs Stanley sent an application to the UK Ministry of Defence in which they posted out an Arctic Star medal.
She said she was proud of her late husband's service and was delighted to receive the medal on his behalf.
"It was just marvellous that I managed to ring [Jan and Jack Mitchell] that day and to hear about where Alec had been.
"It's lovely having the log book and although it's a long time [ago] I feel quite proud for him, really proud because he loved his time in the navy," she said.
After his time in the navy Alec and Rosemary were married and started a family.
"He decided that he didn't want to stay in the navy when we married. He said it wasn't a life for a married man so we started our life and had five children, he really wanted us to have a family," Mrs Stanley said.
And so they did, and Mrs Stanley said her husband wanted his children to grow up in Australia.
"The day we got married he said to me if ever we have children I'd like them to grow up in Australia," she said.
The Stanley's immigrated from England and have been in Lithgow now for 51 years.
"On the day we landed in Sydney we came straight to Lithgow," Mrs Stanley said.
"We never looked back, it was the best thing we ever did."
Alec's love for Australia came after spending three months in Sydney at the end of the war when the Japanese surrendered and he had to repatriate Prisoners of War.
In his very last page and journal entry he writes:
"Waving goodbye we slipped from number one berth Darling Harbour at 1200 and passed beneath Sydney Harbour Bridge shortly afterwards. There was a small crowd waving goodbye from the jetty and one man waving his coat from the top of the bridge. I cast my last look at Circular Quay, Luna Park, Garden Island, Taronga Zoo, Manly Beach, The Heads and by that time we were at sea and Sydney was only a pleasant memory or rather a series of pleasant memories."
During his time in Lithgow Alec taught for 26 years as a science teacher at Lithgow High School until he retired in 1985.
Mrs Stanley said he lived a special life and now she had another memory of him which was close to her heart.
"It's a precious, lovely memory, it's a shame he's not here to share it with us," she said.
She also wanted to thank Jan and Jack Mitchell for being close friends and for telling her about the SBS show.
"If I hadn't of rang up it probably wouldn't of have happened," she said.
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