Decision on Arctic medal could be made in months

IN CHARGE Sir John Holmes
IN CHARGE Sir John Holmes
Lee Hider with his work at the exhibition

Students snap their take on city life for exhibition

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VETERANS of the Second World War Arctic Convoys will have to wait until September to find out if they will finally be awarded a medal.

Prime Minister David Cameron officially announced the start of a new, independent review into the rules governing war medals yesterday.

As previously revealed by The News, the study will be led by diplomat Sir John Holmes who will consult veterans and make recommendations to the government.

Mr Cameron announced Sir John will have to report to him ‘by the summer’.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said the government would then make a final decision to be announced after parliament’s summer break.

The Arctic heroes braved freezing conditions and attacks from Nazi U-boats and planes on vital supply missions to keep the Soviet Union fighting in the war.

But their efforts have never been rewarded with their own medal for the campaign which cost 3,000 British lives.

Veteran Bill Shepperd, 86, of Copnor, who served aboard the minesweeper HMS Onyx, said: ‘It does sound hopeful after so many years of waiting and campaigning we might finally get the medal.

‘In the past it’s been dismissed out of hand.

‘At 17, I was one of the youngest on the convoys. There aren’t many of us left these days. I fear this is the final roll of the dice for us.’

Arctic heroes had hoped they would be awarded their war medal the next time the Tories came to power.

However, in July 2010, Mr Cameron went against previous Conservative pre-election promises and ordered the MoD to carry out a review.

This was axed last October following claims from veterans that it was a whitewash.

The new review will see Sir John consider the Arctic veterans’ claim and other groups such as Bomber Command and HMS Concord sailors from the Yangtze incident.

The 61-year-old senior diplomat said: ‘I am honoured to have been asked to take on this review and look forward to talking to all interested parties on what are sensitive and important issues.’

THE CASE FOR THE ARCTIC MEDAL

MORE than 3,000 sailors died between 1941 and 1945 running a sub-zero gauntlet of German warplanes and U-boats to keep Russia supplied and fighting in the war.

Winston Churchill called it the ‘worst journey in the world’.

The survivors were overlooked when medals were handed out in 1946 because of tensions with the Soviet Union. They were told they could have the Atlantic Star – a medal for a different campaign.

Veterans started their medal campaign in 1997, pointing out the Cold War was over. Backed by The News, the campaign collected 45,000 signatures and marched on Whitehall.

In 2006, the Labour government finally recognised the Arctic Convoys as a separate campaign and awarded a lapel badge.

The badge was deeply unpopular with veterans. It was not a medal and only 10,000 out of a potential 66,000 badges were applied for. Successive Conservative leaders Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard were among leading Tory MPs who promised an Arctic Star medal would be created when they next got into power.