About two-and-a-half years ago I met a very special man.
I didn’t know it at the time, of course. This man, who walked bolt upright and with a spring in his step, informed me that not only was he 90, but also that he and his comrades had been involved in a part of the Second World War I’d never previously heard of.
That man was Commander Eddie Grenfell, veteran of the Arctic Convoys.
Eddie described to me how it was so cold his ship had ice for a shroud, and any flesh that touched metal would be torn away from a hand or arm. How, if you fell overboard, you were dead.
And how, relentlessly, the convoys were targeted by the German U-boat patrols, eager to stop vital supplies reaching starving Russians.
It was one of those U-boats which fired five torpedoes at Eddie’s ship, igniting ammunition stores on board, ripping it apart and sending huge knives of steel whistling through the air, killing anyone in their path.
Eddie was blown into the sea. But he didn’t die, despite the cold, despite the twisted, flying metal, and despite the enemy close at hand.
Instead he was rescued and sent to recover in a hospital in Murmansk, Russia, where he and his compatriots were hailed as heroes.
Now, 68 years on from the end of the war, they have at last been recognised properly for their bravery, their courage, and their will to survive and help the people of a distant land who not long before had been an enemy of Britain.
Eddie, recovering from heart surgery, was too ill to go to London and meet the Prime Minister to get his Arctic Star medal. I feel sorry for David Cameron for that.
He has missed the opportunity to meet a man who is fluent in Russian and German, who can describe in toe-curling detail exactly what it’s like to risk everything to help a nation of strangers on behalf of your own country and to devote a life to fighting.
Fighting on behalf of those crew members who didn’t make it, for those who have since died and those who are still with us. Fighting to get some recognition for their actions.
Yes, the PM has absolutely missed out.