Medals review is final chance for Arctic war heroes

REVIEW John Holmes
REVIEW John Holmes
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WAR veterans fighting for a medal were today given new hope that their 66-year injustice will finally come to end.

The government is poised to announce a long-awaited review into the honours system – possibly as early as today.

The News can reveal that the review will be headed by Sir John Holmes, a senior diplomat who once held office at the British Embassy in Moscow and later worked as the Assistant Head of the Soviet Department in London.

Veterans who have long fought for an Arctic Convoy medal believe it is their last chance to get the recognition they deserve.

It comes after an earlier 16-month review run by the Ministry of Defence was abandoned by David Cameron last October amid accusations from veterans that it was a ‘whitewashing’ exercise.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said she believes this review will be swift, taking two or three months.

She told The News: ‘I am really pleased it’s going to be announced. I wish it had happened earlier. Clearly it’s got to be done swiftly.

‘This is decades overdue. It’s very clear that an error was made at the time and has continued to be made.

‘There is compelling evidence that they rectify the error.’

She said she believed Sir John was a ‘safe of pair of hands’.

‘The Ministry of Defence has not looked at the facts,’ she said. ‘Their medal review was factually incorrect. With John Holmes, I am sure he has huge admiration for the Arctic veterans.

‘But I think he’s going to be absolutely fair and balanced when he assesses the evidence.’

Commander Eddie Grenfell, 92, of Portsea, who leads the Arctic Medal campaign, said: ‘I’m very pleased that after six months of delays that this review is now going to get started. But I’m also dreadfully disappointed because the Conservative Party in opposition said that the Arctic Campaign Medal would be awarded when they next came into power. We were promised a medal and you can’t review a promise.’

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said: ‘I warmly welcome it but it has taken a long time to come.

‘Time is not on our side because these veterans are not getting any younger.

‘This will be the review that will enable the goal posts to be changed for the Arctic Convoy veterans and they might eventually be able to get their medals.’

THE CASE FOR AN ARCTIC 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 in the war.

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

The survivors 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 an Arctic Star medal would be created when they next got into power.