Russians plan new medal for Arctic convoy heroes

DIGNITY Commander Eddie Grenfell salutes Russian seamen as they leave the Second War Memorial in Guildhall Square. Picture: Malcolm Wells (122827-7633)
DIGNITY Commander Eddie Grenfell salutes Russian seamen as they leave the Second War Memorial in Guildhall Square. Picture: Malcolm Wells (122827-7633)

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THE Russian government is planning to give another medal to the survivors of the Arctic Convoys.

The Russian Embassy has written to the survivors of the harrowing Second World War campaign telling them it intends to give them the prestigious Medal of Ushakov for their heroic role.

This would be the second time the country has honoured the veterans – it gave them a medal in 1993 to mark the 50th anniversary of the convoys.

Ambassador of the Russian Federation Alexander Yakovenko said: ‘We are offering the Medal of Ushakov, which is quite a rare silver medal.

‘We are working closely with the Foreign Office, and we have sent all the veterans letters asking for their consent as to whether they would wish to receive it.

‘We are now waiting for the Foreign Office to consider this. For us, it’s an important part of our history.

‘We are planning to honour the British navy and the merchant fleet, for us, there is no difference in their heroism.’

The ambassador spoke to The News after laying a wreath at the city’s cenotaph in Guildhall Square on Saturday.

He was joined by 40 sailors from the Russian warship RFS Vice Admiral Kulakov, which has been on a four-day stay in the city.

The medal was a Soviet military award created on March 3, 1944 by decision of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, named in honour of the 18th-century Russian admiral Fyodor Ushakov who never lost a battle and was proclaimed patron saint of the Russian Navy.

Speaking through a translator, Captain Vladimir Kondratov said: ‘Portsmouth has created an excellent impression on us. If London is the capital city of Great Britain, Portsmouth is definitely the capital of the navy.

‘The city’s administration, the mayor’s office and the navy have all provided evidence of the warm welcome they have given to our ship.’

‘Those who are fully acquainted with the heroic deeds of the participants would agree they should be recognised. It was very difficult for the sailors, as they had to take into account not only the attacks by the planes and the submarines, but also the severe conditions of the weather.

Commander Eddie Grenfell, 92, of Portsea, is the leader of the campaign for the UK government to award an Arctic medal, and was there at the ceremony.

He said: ‘When the Russians presented us with the first medal, the Foreign Office stopped us from wearing it.

‘The Russians have now offered one of their highest medals to the surviving convoy people and it’s now been left with the Foreign Office.

‘If they refuse this it will be offending the Russians. It would be a real insult to refuse it.’

A wreath was to be laid and thanks given to the sailors from the Second World War Arctic Convoys which sailed to supply the Soviet Union as it teetered on the brink of collapse.