Arctic veterans to mark 70th year since first convoy

112873-1826  EDDIE GRENFELL (MP) 13/8/2011 ''Commander Eddie Grenfell at The Royal Naval War Memorial on Southsea Common ''FAIRALL W.J. - Commander Grenfell only missed dying with his best mate 'Jimmy' Fairall due to a fluke of circumstances as they headed for home '''Picture: Malcolm Wells (112873-1826)

112873-1826 EDDIE GRENFELL (MP) 13/8/2011 ''Commander Eddie Grenfell at The Royal Naval War Memorial on Southsea Common ''FAIRALL W.J. - Commander Grenfell only missed dying with his best mate 'Jimmy' Fairall due to a fluke of circumstances as they headed for home '''Picture: Malcolm Wells (112873-1826)

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SECOND World War veterans will remember 3,000 fallen comrades in a moving memorial held 70 years to the day that the first Arctic Convoy sailed for Russia.

Wreaths will be laid at Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common at 11am on Sunday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dervish Convoy leaving for Russia on August 21, 1941.

It was the start of four years during which 95 convoys ran a sub-zero gauntlet of German attacks to supply the Soviet Union with war supplies to fight off Hitler’s advances.

Ageing Arctic Convoy veterans, who are still fighting for a medal in recognition of their dangerous war missions, are hoping for a big turnout on Sunday.

Commander Eddie Grenfell, the 91-year-old leader of the News-backed Arctic Medal Campaign, welcomed one and all to come along.

He said: ‘Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the heroic men I served with, but Sunday is a good occasion to pay our respects to those comrades who never made it home.

‘It will be good to see as many of our friends and supporters as possible join us for this time of reflection and thanks.’

Families of the war dead, as well as relatives and friends of veterans who have since passed away, will be at the memorial. The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Cheryl Buggy, will lay a wreath on behalf of the city.

The convoys were ordered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who famously described them as ‘the worst journey in the world’.

In an exclusive article for The News today, Cdr Grenfell calls the campaign the most important of the war.

He said: ‘If Russia had been defeated in 1941, as nearly happened, Germany would have been able to transfer 150 army divisions to the Channel coast to join the 35 divisions already there. With 185 divisions at his disposal, Hitler could easily have invaded Britain.’

Despite their efforts, the Arctic Convoy veterans have never received their own medal from a British government.

Cdr Grenfell, who survived the sinking of the Empire Lawrence in 1942, has led the fight for an Arctic Star medal for 15 years.

When in opposition, senior Conservative MPs – including former leaders Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith – promised the Tories would award a medal the next time they came to power.

But 15 months since the Tory-led coalition government formed, no such medal has been awarded.

Instead, the government ordered a prolonged Ministry of Defence medals review, which is now set to drag on until later this year.

MoD officials think the Arctic Convoy men should not get a medal, but veterans and MPs are campaigning to change their mind.

Cdr Grenfell said: ‘Time is running out for the government to do the right thing.’

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