ARCTIC hero Eddie Grenfell went eye to eye with the veterans minister Andrew Robathan and asked: ‘Why won’t you give us a medal?’
Commander Grenfell wanted answers about why the government has not yet honoured a pre-election pledge by senior Conservatives to award an Arctic Star the next time they came to power.
But despite being face to face with the minister, as pictured on page 1, his plea fell on deaf ears.
Campaigners want a medal for the 66,000 men who braved freezing conditions and a gauntlet of German U-boat and air strikes to supply the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
Cdr Grenfell, 91, of Portsea, travelled to Winchester to confront Mr Robathan in The Great Hall where he signed a new Armed Forces Community Covenant with Hampshire County Council – a pledge to look after and respect veterans, servicemen and women, and their families.
But the minister wriggled out of Cdr Grenfell’s questions and said: ‘Why do you need a medal?
‘We know what you did and you have our praise and respect.’
Rattled Mr Robathan was told it was the ageing veteran’s dying wish to be awarded a medal for serving in the dreaded convoys.
Turning on his heels, the minister barked: ‘Your dying wish? It’s your dying wish to be awarded a medal?’
Both Cdr Grenfell and fellow Arctic veteran Lieutenant Commander Roy Dykes replied ‘Yes’, prompting a silent response from the red-faced Mr Robathan.
Afterwards, Cdr Grenfell said: ‘I’m shocked in the way Mr Robathan spoke to us. He showed us no respect and he was patronising. He clearly underestimates how important it is that the government ends 65 years of injustice.’
The government has ordered a review into the striking of new war medals.
But a recent draft document supplied by the Ministry of Defence concluded the Arctic Convoy veterans should be turned down once again.
Three thousand men perished in the deadly convoys but their efforts have never been recognised with a full campaign medal.
Instead, the sailors were given the Atlantic Star – a medal for different campaign in which many of the men had already served.
Speaking after his showdown with Cdr Grenfell, Mr Robathan, pictured, told The News: ‘It was decided after the Second World War to give these men the Atlantic Star. Sixty-five years later, should I be the person to change the rules?
‘The decision was the decision that was taken at the time and I can’t be held responsible for that.’
Arctic veterans fighting 65-year snub
· The Russian Convoy veterans 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 a medal would be created when they next got into power.
· But despite Tory PM David Cameron expressing his support for the veterans in January this year, the medal still hasn’t been awarded.
· The issue is ‘under review’ and the MoD still does not want Arctic veterans to get a medal.