Arctic veterans urge PM to get on with medal review

BRAVE Sailors chip thick ice from the forecastle of the cruiser HMS Scylla.
BRAVE Sailors chip thick ice from the forecastle of the cruiser HMS Scylla.

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SECOND World War veterans who are fighting for a medal have urged the government to hurry up and start its new review into the honours system.

Despite being promised they would receive a medal by the Conservative Party when it was in opposition, Arctic Convoy veterans have been told they will face yet another Whitehall review.

Commander Eddie Grenfell

Commander Eddie Grenfell

It follows a 16-month review run by the Ministry of Defence which was abandoned by Prime Minister David Cameron last October amid accusations from veterans that it was a ‘whitewashing’ exercise.

Much to the dissatisfaction of Arctic veterans who feel the Tory promises of a medal should be honoured immediately, Mr Cameron ordered a new, independent review to be set up ‘very shortly’ last autumn.

But four months later, the ageing war heroes are still waiting for it to begin.

Commander Eddie Grenfell, 92, of Portsea, who survived the bombing of his ship, the Empire Lawrence, and spent 10 minutes in the icy Arctic waters before he was rescued, said: ‘It’s a disgrace that we are still waiting. We are in limbo.

‘During the long first review, many of the Arctic veterans crossed the bar and during the time we’ve been waiting for this second review more have died.

‘There are fewer than 200 of us left and we are in our 80s and 90s. Time is not on our side and Mr Cameron knows this.’

Cdr Grenfell, pictured above, the elected leader of the News-backed Arctic Medal Campaign, added: ‘I’m really disappointed that we are having to go through another review, especially as Conservative leaders Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith both promised we’d be given a medal the next time there was a Tory government and signed a petition backing our claim. I don’t think you can review a promise. However, if we must go through another review then I wish they would get on with it.’

Mr Cameron has sought to reassure veterans the review will start ‘shortly’ but has offered no date.

In a reply letter to Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock, which was received Friday, Mr Cameron wrote: ‘This (review) will be independently led and fully consultative and I would expect recognition for the veterans of the Arctic Convoys to be included. This is a much fairer approach than considering a medal campaign in isolation, however deserving it may be.

‘The full scope and nominated lead are due to be announced shortly.’

Worryingly for veterans, Mr Cameron added: ‘It is expected that the new review will make full use of earlier work the Ministry of Defence has undertaken.’

It’s not too late to join The News campaign...

The News is calling on readers to stand up against the bureaucracy that has robbed Arctic Convoy veterans of a medal by signing an online petition which can be found at portsmouth.co.uk/arcticconvoys.

More than 3,000 sailors died running a sub-zero gauntlet of German warplanes and U-boats to keep Russia supplied and fighting in the war.

But successive British governments have ignored their plea for proper recognition – despite the veterans being hailed as heroes in Russia.

These veterans need people to get active online and start spreading the word about this 65-year injustice.

Twitter users are urged to tweet the above link using the hashtag #arcticmedal and to ask prominent Tweeters to spread the word to their followers.

People not on Twitter can email friends and work colleagues the portsmouth.co.uk/arcticconvoys link and ask them to send it on to other people they know.

If 100,000 people sign the epetition it could lead to the Arctic Medal campaign being debated in parliament. Arctic Medal campaign leader Commander Eddie Grenfell said: ‘It would be wonderful if we can get 100,000 signatures. On behalf of the veterans, I thank everyone for all their fantastic support.’