STUNNED Second World War veterans have accused Prime Minister David Cameron of being ‘two-faced’ after he appeared to drop his support for a medal for brave men who served in the Arctic Convoys.
The News has seen a private letter from Mr Cameron to the Leader of the House of Commons Sir George Young.
In it, Mr Cameron says sailors who braved gruelling conditions in the Arctic to supply the Soviet Union have had enough recognition by being awarded the Atlantic Star – a body blow to veterans who are campaigning for a specific Arctic medal.
The ageing Arctic Convoy veterans had thought Mr Cameron was on their side after he stood up in Parliament earlier this year and pledged his support for their campaign.
In January, Mr Cameron told the House of Commons: ‘It seems to me that the important fact is that people on the Arctic Convoys served under incredibly harsh conditions and were not allowed to serve for very long periods, so there is a case for saying that they have missed out.
‘Many of them are coming to the end of their lives, and it would be good if we could do something more to recognise what they have done.’
But in the letter to Sir George – a supporter of the Arctic Medal campaign – dated September 15, the Prime Minister wrote: ‘It is clear that the Atlantic Star Medal that was extended to those who served in the Arctic specified the convoys in its qualifying criteria.
‘Those who took part in the Arctic Convoys have therefore been recognised and received this medal as a mark of the nation’s gratitude.’
The line that Arctic veterans were recognised with the Atlantic Star has long been used by Ministry of Defence bureaucrats as a reason for not creating a new medal.
But figures show 95 per cent of the 66,500 men who served in the Arctic Convoys had already earned the Atlantic Star for previous service in the Second World War.
Arctic Convoy veteran Commander Eddie Grenfell, 91, of Portsea, said: ‘We feel completely and utterly betrayed. How can Cameron stand up and support us in public but privately say we don’t deserve a medal? It’s two-faced and wrong.’
He added: ‘This myth about us getting the Atlantic Star for the Arctic is completely wrong. Most of us had been drafted to the Arctic from service in the Home Fleet so we would have got the Atlantic Star anyway. How can they say the Atlantic and Arctic were the same campaign? They were 800 miles apart and had completely different aims. We’ve come up against this nonsense time and time again.’
Cdr Grenfell, who will lead 10 of the few surviving Arctic Convoy veterans at the Remembrance Day parade to the Centotaph in London on Sunday, said: ‘The thing I’m most upset about is I’ve written 20 letters to David Cameron in the last 18 months and only got two replies. In the letters I warned him about civil servants who have got their facts wrong but he’s decided to listen to them and ignore us. I have fought against these civil servants for years and I thought David Cameron was our best hope of finally getting justice.
‘After he said what he said in January I was sure we would finally get a medal but now I feel like we’ve been knifed in the back once again.’
The veterans already felt let down by the Tory party which made pre-election promises that an Arctic Medal would be struck if they got into power.
Instead, the coalition government ordered a lengthy review into the medals system in July 2010 and Ministry of Defence officials have told The News not to expect an announcement on its outcome before the end of the year.
A Downing Street spokesman attempted to play down Mr Cameron’s apparent U-turn on the veterans yesterday.
He said: ‘The Prime Minister has been clear that all WWII vets deserve the recognition they rightly deserve, this is not new. In the letter, the PM was recognising, as a matter of fact, what had already been awarded. The Prime Minister is very clear on not pre-judging the review’s outcome.’
Get involved and sign petition
The News is calling on readers to stand up against the bureaucracy that has robbed Arctic Convoy veterans of a medal by signing an online petition
More than 3,000 sailors died running a sub-zero gauntlet of German warplanes and U-boats to keep Russia supplied and fighting in the war.
But successive British governments have ignored their plea for proper recognition – despite the veterans being hailed as heroes in Russia.
As the nation remembers our war dead this week, these veterans need people to get active online and start spreading the word about this 65-year injustice.
Twitter users are urged to tweet the above link using the hashtag #arcticmedal and to ask prominent Tweeters to spread the word to their followers. People not on Twitter can email friends and work colleagues the portsmouth.co.uk/arcticconvoys link and ask them to send it on to other people they know.
If 100,000 people sign the epetition it could lead to the Arctic Medal campaign being debated in parliament. Arctic Medal campaign leader Commander Eddie Grenfell said: ‘It would be wonderful if we can get 100,000 signatures. On behalf of the veterans, I thank everyone for all their fantastic support.’