VETERANS of one of the harshest and most important campaigns of the Second World War have finally won full recognition for their their bravery after a seven-decade wait, with the creation of an official Arctic campaign medal.
The government announced today that the men who took part in the Russian Convoys are to be awarded a campaign medal after fighting for formal recognition since the mid-1990s in a determined campaign supported by The News.
At Prime Minister’s Question Time today, David Cameron announced that he has recommended the Honours & Decorations Committee proceed with awarding the Arctic Convoy Medal, subject to approval by the Queen, after a report by former diplomat Sir John Holmes..
Mr Cameron said: ‘I’m delighted to be able to tell the House that we have reached a resolution.
‘Sir John has completed his work and I thank him for what he has done.
‘On the Arctic Convoys, Sir John has recommended and I fully agree that we will be issuing an Arctic campaign medal.
‘Some of the brave men will get the recognition they so richly deserve.’
Click here to hear the Prime Minister’s statement in full
It will be announced in the new year how veterans can obtain the new medal. The Portsmouth leader of the campaign for a medal, Arctic veteran Eddie Grenfell, said the decision was ‘wonderful.’
The decision to create a new medal marks a rewriting of the decorations rules, which said that no campaign mentioned for a medal could be considered for a separate decoration.
The Russian Convoys began in 1941, with the aim of keeping the Soviet Union in the war.
Merchant and Royal Navy seamen sailed mostly from Loch Ewe in Scotland through a gauntlet of submarine, air and battleship attacks in sub-zero conditions to get vital supplies to the Soviet ports of Archangel and Murmansk.
The convoys saw the heaviest loss of life for a sea campaign in the war. Conditions were so cold that men lost their hands if they touched the surface of ships without gloves.
However, after the war, the veterans were ignored when it came to awarding a campaign medal, because the Soviet Union had become the new enemy.
Instead, they were included in the Atlantic Star, which was for a separate campaign to keep Britain supplied.
Because the Atlantic Star had a minimum six-month qualification period of service, unique among Second World War campaign medals, most Arctic veterans failed to qualify.
Veterans of the Russian Convoys began their campaign to reverse the snub in the mid- 1990s after the Cold War ended. But John Major’s government refused to listen to their case.
Then, despite a promise to create a medal, Tony Blair’s government instead created the Arctic emblem, which did not have official medal status. The Conservatives promised to create a medal when they came to power, but David Cameron put it to an official review under former diplomat Sir John Holmes, who said there was a case for the issue to be revisited.
Sir John has now recommended a new medal, which has been formally agreed on and is due to be announced today.
Commander Grenfell, who has led the medal campaign for almost 20 years, said: “It is wonderful news. We always wanted this official recognition for the sacrifices we made and the many who did not come home.
“It just saddens me that many of my chums who hoped for this day have not survived to see it.”
Recently the Foreign Office blocked an attempt by the Russian government to award the remaining veterans one of its highest awards for gallantry.
Click here to read the Queen’s tribute to the men of the Arctic Convoys in May this year
Click here to read how wreaths were laid on the 70th anniversary last August of the first Arctic Convoy
Click here for the story of one of the many veterans who died without receiving a medal
Click here for a British Forces News video on the medal fight