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There is no time for delays, says Arctic Convoy veteran

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Recovering in hospital after a series of heart problems, veteran Arctic Medal campaigner Eddie Grenfell is all too aware of the importance of time.

For the last 15 years the retired commander has battled for veterans of the treacherous Arctic Convoys to be recognised for their heroism.

Last month, he was finally able to celebrate.

But with an ever-dwindling number of survivors left alive to see the campaign’s victory, the 93-year-old is desperate to see the medals struck before it is too late.

The retired commander is himself currently in hospital after suffering serious problems with his heart.

He was taken to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, on January 16 after having trouble with his heart rate.

Doctors released the 93-year-old from hospital the next day, but he was taken back within 24 hours after losing consciousness at his Portsea home.

Cdr Grenfell was previously hospitalised in March last year after having a heart attack.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced in December the News-backed campaign for an Arctic Convoy Star Medal had at last been won.

Amid the celebration, Cdr Grenfell spared a moment to remember veterans who have passed away as the battle for recognition raged on.

Now he says the government needs to move quickly to award the medal to those who are still alive, before it becomes too late for many of them.

Cdr Grenfell said: ‘The important thing is now that David Cameron has approved the medal he needs to make sure that the veterans who are still alive get it by March at the latest.

‘If the government does take longer than March, one chap after another will cross the bar and that’s happening now – in the last month three people have gone, and there may be more.

‘Please remember that it is thanks to people like us that they are able to live such comfortable lives now because I think they forget this entirely.’

In another triumph for the veteran, he has been told the surviving Arctic Convoy veterans who are still alive today will receive their medals as a matter of priority.

Relatives of convoy veterans who are not alive today will also receive medals on behalf of their loved ones, but at a later date.

‘I think that is great news,’ added Cdr Grenfell.

‘I was concerned over the amount of time it would take to get the medals. So I said “why don’t you prioritise the couple of hundred who are still alive?”.

‘It doesn’t take nine months to manufacture 200 medals.

‘And it would appear they have now taken my advice.

‘But it has to be March at the very latest.

‘Any longer than that will be too late.’

The Royal Mint Advisory Committee is in the middle of designing the 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 during the war.

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

Cdr Grenfell survived the bombing of his ship, the Empire Lawrence, which was sunk on May 27, 1942.

He spent a dangerous 10 minutes in the icy Arctic waters before being rescued.

Cdr Grenfell, along with other survivors of the convoys, was overlooked when medals were handed out in 1946 because of tensions with the Soviet Union.

They were instead 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.

Confrontations with politicians, marches on Westminster and petitions have all taken place in the last 15 years as campaigners fought for recognition.

Trudie Grenfell, 64, from Southsea, is Cdr Grenfell’s daughter.

She said: ‘My dad is just an amazing man.

‘Not many people could go through what he has been through and still be alive. It’s ever so important that the surviving veterans are given this medal as soon as possible.

‘There can’t be any delays, or it will be too late.’

When asked for a comment by The News, the Ministry of Defence pointed to a statement read out in the House of Commons by Prime Minister David Cameron last week.

It said: ‘At present the Royal Mint Advisory Committee is developing the design of the medal.

‘The aim is that this will be announced by early March, once it has received the necessary approvals.

‘The application process and qualification criteria will be announced at the same time.

‘The priority for awarding the medal will be given to veterans and widows, with applications from additional next of kin dealt with thereafter.’

‘WE STILL WANT THE MEDAL OF USHAKOV’

COMMANDER Grenfell is adamant that Arctic Convoy veterans should be allowed to receive a medal offered to them by the Russians.

In August last year, Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said his government wanted to award the veterans with the prestigious Medal of Ushakov.

But the Foreign Office blocked the plans.

In November, the Russian Ambassador pledged to keep fighting to allow convoy veterans the Medal of Ushakov.

While the Arctic Convoy Star Medal takes top priority, Cdr Grenfell has again taken aim at the Foreign Office for refusing veterans the chance to receive the Russian medal.

‘I believe people in uniforms are on our side, but it is the unelected civil servants who oppose us on this,’ he said.

‘We still want the Medal of Ushakov.’

Under UK law, citizens are allowed to receive foreign medals and awards only if the British government gives them permission, and only if the award relates to activities within past five years.

Additionally, permission cannot be granted if they have received, or are expected to receive, a UK award for the same services.

Both have been given as reasons why the Arctic Convoy veterans cannot receive the Medal of Ushakov.

Cdr Grenfell added: ‘Since it is a medal for bravery, and not a campaign medal, the double medal rule does not apply.

‘America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all accepted the medal.

‘People who deserted this country at the end of the war to go to Australia, they get a bravery medal, but the people who remained to rebuild the country don’t.’

TIMELINE: HOW THE FIGHT WAS WON

· January 1997: Veterans start their campaign backed by The News which presents a 16,000-name petition to John Major.

· May 1997: Major backs defence minister Nicholas Soames in rejecting the request for a medal.

· October 2001: MPs ask the government for a rethink.

· November 2002: Tony Blair promises case ‘under review’.

· January 5, 2004: The News launches the Last Chance For Justice campaign

· January 12, 2004: More than 1,600 sign petition in first week.

· May 2004: Blair reveals a review has been dismissed.

· June 2004: Arctic heroes receive medals from Russia.

· July 2004: MPs come out in support of the campaign.

· March 2005: Arctic veterans attend a reception at 10 Downing Street where they are offered an Arctic Emblem.

· January 2011: Responding to a question from Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage, David Cameron pledges that more must be done to recognise Arctic Convoy veterans.

· June 2011: Cdr Grenfell confronts veterans minister Andrew Robathan about breaking the pre-election pledge of a campaign medal.

· November 2011: The government announces its intention to launch an independent medal review.

· March 2012: Cdr Grenfell suffers a heart attack after picking up a medal for bravery.

· August 2012: Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko says his government wants to award veterans with the prestigious Medal of Ushakov but the offer is blocked by the Foreign Office.

· December 2012: David Cameron announces the creation of the Arctic Convoy Star Medal.

 

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