UK & World News

  • 19 December 2012, 18:33

WWII Arctic Convoy Veterans To Get Medals

Veterans of the Second World War Arctic Convoys who delivered supplies to the Soviet Union are to be awarded medals, the Prime Minister has announced.

The decision caps a long battle for recognition by the veterans, who embarked on what Winston Churchill called the "worst journey in the world" to keep supply lines open.

More than 3,000 seamen died in Operation Dervish.

David Cameron told MPs he had accepted the recommendations of a review of military medals carried out by Sir John Holmes, a former diplomat.

"Sir John has recommended and I fully agree, there will be an Arctic Convoy Star medal," Mr Cameron announced at Prime Minister's Questions.

"I am very pleased that some of the brave men of the Arctic Convoys will get the recognition they so richly deserve for the very dangerous work they did."

Mr Cameron added that "the heroic aircrews should be awarded a Bomber Command Clasp".

Between 1941-45, merchant ships delivered supplies to the Soviet union - primarily the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk - escorted by the Royal Navy and their counterparts from Canada and the United States.

They have been credited with keeping Russian morale up in the fight against Nazi Germany.

Only about 400 veterans are thought to still be alive.

Their efforts to secure formal recognition had been repeatedly rebuffed on the grounds of protocol and because the Cold War had made the decision politically unpalatable.

Sky News Defence Correspondent Alistair Bunkall says the feats and bravery of Bomber Command have long been ignored when compared to their colleagues Fighter Command.

Whilst Fighter Command, made up of Spitfires and Hurricanes, did invaluable work protecting the skies over Britain, Bomber Command attacked enemy sites abroad, flying dangerous sorties against munitions, factories, ships, troops and airbases.

There is considerable unhappiness amongst veterans and campaigners that it has taken 67 years for politicians to reach this decision.

Commander Eddie Grenfell, an Arctic Convoy veteran and leading campaigner for recognition, said he was "pleased but not delighted" and accused Mr Cameron of taking too long.

"In the meantime God knows how many of my Arctic Convoy chums have died waiting," said the 92-year-old from Portsmouth.

Cmdr Grenfell, one of the few to be rescued when his ship was blown to pieces on one mission, served in a number of theatres during the war but said none was as horrific as the Arctic.

Once the conflict ended, he said, it was impossible to campaign for a medal for helping the Russians since Moscow was then the enemy.

When relations thawed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, an attempt to secure recognition was refused because of a rule saying medals can be awarded only within five years of the end of a war.

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage, another prominent campaigner, welcomed the decision to address what she said was a "huge injustice" but urged the Government to act swiftly on its promise.

"After years of waiting, time is no longer a luxury that these brave men have on their side," she said.

The Ministry of Defence will now draw up eligibility criteria and assess costs - which could take months.

Advertisement