SURVIVORS of the Second World War Arctic Convoys have called for veterans minister Andrew Robathan to be sacked.
It comes after he compared their claim for a medal to the high number of honours dished out to Soviet generals and Colonel Gaddafi’s henchmen.
The minister told a House of Commons debate that if Britain awarded a separate Arctic Star it would be the same as the proliferation of medals seen in authoritarian regimes.
His comments came in front of seven aging veterans who had travelled to Westminster to listen to yesterday’s debate, which was led by Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage.
After Ms Dinenage had made a passionate plea for the Conservative Party to honour its pre-election promise of an Arctic medal, Mr Robathan said: ‘Medals in the UK mean something.
‘Authoritarian regimes and dictators often throw around a lot of medals.
‘One can look, for instance, at North Korean generals who are covered in medals or Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein.
‘We have taken the view in this country, traditionally, that medals will only be awarded for campaigns that show risk and rigour.
‘Some regimes give out very large numbers of medals whereas we, traditionally, do not.’
The veterans argue they deserve their own medal for the daring supply missions 66,500 sailors made through thick ice to keep the Soviet Union fighting in the war.
Up to 3,000 British sailors died under attack from Nazi U-boats, planes and battleships on the dreaded ‘Russian runs’ ordered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Angry words were exchanged at the end of the debate when Arctic veteran, Commander Eddie Grenfell, 91, of Portsea, confronted Mr Robathan and said: ‘It was a promise in opposition when you were looking for votes.’
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock told the minister: ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself.’
He replied: ‘Don’t talk to me about shame.’
The minister then walked off smirking.
Ms Dinenage, who had secured the debate in Westminster Hall, said: ‘It absolutely sickens me that he made those comments, particularly in front of those men who displayed levels of heroism and bravery he can not even understand.’
Lib Dem MP Mr Hancock said: ‘I’ve never been so ashamed of a minister, especially one we are in a coalition with.
‘To behave so inappropriately and to speak in such derisory terms was so offensive.’
Cdr Grenfell, who is the elected leader of the News-backed Arctic Medal campaign, said the minister was a disgrace.
‘As minister for veterans, he should be sacked immediately,’ he said.
It is not the first time Mr Robathan has clashed with Arctic Convoy veterans.
In July, he questioned if it was their dying wish to have their own medal.
Stanley Ballard, 89, who was a leading seaman in HMS Cotton on the convoys, said: ‘I could go mad. I’m angry at him.
‘We don’t consider ourselves heroes, we were just doing a job.
‘To compare us to Gaddafi is as good as a slap in the face.’
Lieutenant Commander Dick Dykes, 92, who was a seaboat officer aboard HMS Honeysuckle, added: ‘He did the same thing as he did in Winchester – he walked off. It was disgusting.
‘He doesn’t deserve to be in the job.’
‘Clock is ticking to award a medal’
THE government has been warned that time is running out to do the right thing and award an Arctic Star medal while the few remaining veterans are still alive.
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage told veterans minister Andrew Robathan the 200 remaining Arctic Convoy veterans can’t afford to wait for yet another long government review.
The minister told yesterday’s Commons debate that decisions about awarding war medals ‘should not be made by politicians’ and confirmed a Ministry of Defence review of the medals system which began in July 2010 has been scrapped and is soon to be replaced with a new, independent review.
Veterans who were promised an Arctic Star medal by successive Tory leaders – including David Cameron last January – fear the government is kicking the issue into the long grass.
Ms Dinenage told Mr Robathan ‘time is not on our side’, adding: ‘Enough time has been wasted on a review and delays already. It appals me that the men who fought for the freedoms which we all take for granted have not got a medal.
‘How utterly disgusting it would be if a medal was awarded and nobody was alive to receive it.’
Churchill called the convoys ‘the worst journey in the world’. But after the war, the 66,500 Arctic veterans were denied their own medal.
Instead, they were lumped in with the Atlantic Star – a medal for a separate campaign 800 miles away.