Journalists who spearheaded the support given by The News to Cmdr Eddie Grenfell today saluted his long-fought campaign for justice.
Editor Mark Waldron said: ‘It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Eddie Grenfell this morning - a shock that was felt across the whole news room when the call came in from his daughter Trudie.
‘He was a truly remarkable and inspirational man and I am proud that The News stood shoulder to shoulder with him throughout the campaign for the Arctic Star. Although the campaign eventually proved successful last year it took a needlessly long time to resolve - time which undoubtedly took its toll on Eddie’s health.
‘I am only thankful that he not only lived long enough to see the campaign through to its conclusion but also received the first of the medals in a special ceremony at the Guildhall.
‘No man would have felt so proud - and no honour so richly deserved.’
And Mike Gilson, who was editor of the paper when The News launched its Last Chance for Justice campaign in 2004, said: ‘I am really sorry to hear of Eddie’s death but what a lesson he’s given us all in how to keep fighting, active and engaged right to the very end.’
Mike, who now edits the Belfast Telegraph, added: ‘It’s almost as if he waited till he won the campaign to head off to fight for something else upstairs.’
Dave Maddox, who as political editor of The News during the crucial first few years of the campaign used his investigative skills to expose the shortcomings of the argument against an Arctic medal, said: ‘My abiding memory of Eddie will be of the many hours the two of us spent plotting and working up plans in the special campaign office at The News set up to fight the Arctic medal campaign.
‘I have met many extraordinary people in journalism but never one with the sheer unwavering, iron determination that drove Eddie and ultimately brought him victory in the medal campaign.
‘The creation of the Arctic Star came just in time so that Eddie was at least able to taste victory after so many years of effort, but he was rightly angry that it came too late for many of his friends.
‘But there is no doubt that without Eddie and his unbreakable resolve there would have been no Arctic Star because that’s what it took to wear down an obstinate government department which was more interested in the sanctity of its rules than the obvious injustice that had taken place with the Russian Convoy veterans.
‘Eddie was much more than the campaign though. He was an extraordinarily charismatic and generous man who inspired complete loyalty in his friends.
‘The people who come to see the Arctic veterans at the Sherlock Holmes pub in Whitehall after Remembrance Sunday every year will miss the man who was the heart and soul of the party which always took place there with Eddie leading the singing.
‘For me, I have lost a dear friend who was one of the most exceptional people I have worked with.’
Mark Acheson, associate editor of The News, said: ‘Eddie Grenfell was a hero twice over, a warrior whose indomitable spirit saw him emerge victorious from the two major campaigns of his long life.
‘The first he fought as a young man, with the exceptional bravery shown by all those who took part in the Arctic Convoys, famously described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world.”
‘The second he battled much later in life, using those same qualities of courage and determination that saw him though the murderous conflict.
‘Eddie was a man of principle, a believer in democracy and justice. He was not the sort to stand by when any of these were denied. So even in the dark early years of the Last Chance for Justice campaign, when Whitehall did nothing but rebuff, it was clear to those of us at The News deeply involved in the crusade for an Arctic medal that the fight simply would not be given up until victory was finally won.
‘We’re proud to have helped veterans in their dignified battle for justice, but there was no doubt that Eddie was the driving force who inspired all around him to look each setback defiantly in the face.
His strength and stamina belied his advanced years as day after day he spent long hours at The News Centre, researching, writing letters, and making phone calls in furtherance of the cause.
‘He was at the forefront of the march on Downing Street to hand in a petition organised by The News and signed by thousands of supporters.
‘And he took on politicians face to face, standing against then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in a General Election and later confronting veterans minister Andrew Robathan.
‘Throughout, he showed the heart of oak befitting a retired naval commander.
‘He did not suffer fools gladly, and less still pen-pushing civil servants.
‘But within that tough exterior beat a heart not only of oak but of gold too. The frequent twinkle in his eye bore witness to his sense of fun and zest for life that served him so well in his mission.
‘I recall that twinkle when, having spotted him waiting for a bus in lashing rain, I stopped to offer a lift and my hopes that he was not too cold. “Mark” he replied, those eyes a-twinkling, “when you have swum in the Arctic after your ship explodes, you don’t tend to feel the cold again!”
‘I am proud to have been among those many people whom Eddie Grenfell counted as his friends. As he crosses the bar with victory won, his spirit lives on in the memories of all who were privileged to know him. Rest in peace, Eddie.’