WREATHS have been laid to mark 70 years since the first Arctic Convoy left for Russia.
The last surviving veterans of the harrowing campaign gathered at Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common for an emotional service on Sunday.
August 21 marked exactly 70 years since the Dervish Convoy sailed for Russia in 1941.
The service, led by Commander Eddie Grenfell, saw dozens of members of the public join families, politicians, senior sailors and a Russian naval attache at the memorial.
In his address, the 91-year-old leader of the News-backed Arctic Medal Campaign said: ‘They were disciplined, proud of their country and prepared to die for it.
‘Through their sacrifice, the citizens of today’s Britain were given a democratic, free country in which to live and work peacefully.’
He said afterwards: ‘The turn-out has been wonderful. We appreciate it so much that so many people turned up to greet us.’
A wreath was also laid on behalf of The News.
Convoy veteran Roy Dykes, 91, from Whitchurch, said: ‘For those of us who were on the convoys, we can’t forget, and the public needs to be reminded of them. There is a strong bond between those of us who served in the convoys, but it’s nice to see so many others have come out as well.’
Over four years there were 95 convoys which ran the freezing gauntlet of German attacks to supply the Soviet Union with war supplies to fight off Hitler’s advances. The Arctic Convoy veterans are still fighting for a medal in recognition of these missions.
The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Cheryl Buggy, laid a wreath on behalf of the city, and said: ‘This is about honouring and recognising these men. A medal is a tangible gift that says thank you for what you did, but there’s only a few of them left now and they need to get a move on – it’s never too late.’
Former RAF officer Cyril Cochrane, 91, of St Mary’s Road in Fratton, Portsmouth, was taken on one of the convoys to join his pilot for spy missions.
He said: ‘It’s important that they aren’t forgotten. All that time of not being recognised for what they did, it’s not right.’
Senior Conservative MPs in opposition had promised to award a medal when they came to power.
But 15 months since the Tory-led coalition government formed, no medal has been awarded.