Veterans 'died waiting' for Arctic Star medal


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Scores of Arctic Convoy veterans have missed out on getting a new medal because they “died waiting” for Prime Minister David Cameron to act, the leading campaigner for recognition said.

Commander Eddie Grenfell said today's hard-fought victory was tainted because so many shipmates had been denied due to politicians "who have never heard a shot in their lives".

Mr Cameron told the Commons he had accepted an expert review's recommendation that an Arctic Star medal should finally be minted - 67 years after the end of the Second World War.

"I am very pleased that some of the brave men of the Arctic Convoys will get the recognition they so richly deserve for the very dangerous work they did," he said.

But 92-year-old Cmdr Grenfell, from Portsmouth, said he should have acted more quickly to implement a change that had been promised to him by a succession of Conservative leaders in opposition.

"We are pleased but not delighted," he said.

"As soon as David Cameron came to power I reminded him of the promise - only now has he got around to doing it. In the meantime God knows how many of my Arctic Convoy chums have died waiting.

"All because we were waiting for these bloody politicians who have never heard a shot in their lives to make up their minds."

Only around 200 veterans were still alive, said the veteran who has himself just left hospital two and a half months after a heart attack, a fifth of the number a decade ago.

Successive Tory leaders had promised him that they would cut through the rigid protocols that had seen the veterans repeatedly rebuffed in their calls for specific recognition, he said.

More than 3,000 seamen died over four years from 1941 on missions to keep open supply lines to Soviet ports which were dubbed the "worst journey in the world" by Winston Churchill.

Mr Cameron had the power to ask the Queen to recommend a medal but had instead put the issue into the hands of a wider review of military medals by former diplomat Sir John Holmes.

"How can you review a promise?" he said.

"The Prime Minister has the constitutional right to go straight to Her Majesty and recommend that a medal be awarded. He should have done that right at the beginning."

He said the fear now was that the bureaucracy involved in implementing the decision would produce further delays and rob yet more veterans of the chance to finally get their medals.

Cmdr Grenfell, one of the few to be rescued when his ship was blown to pieces on one mission, served in a number of theatres during the war but said none was as "horrific" as the Arctic.

Once the conflict ended, he said, it had been impossible for them to campaign for a medal as Moscow was then an enemy of Britain and embarked on the Cold War.

But when relations thawed in the 1990s, an attempt to secure recognition was refused because of a rule that says medals can only be awarded within five years of the end of a war.

"How the hell could we have campaigned for a medal for helping the Russians at the time of the Cold War? Civil servants would have laughed at us," he said.

Mr Cameron also announced the award of a new clasp for the "heroic" veterans of RAF Bomber Command on the advice of Sir John.