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Arctic Star medal for Russian Convoys veterans

The Arctic Star medal is for those who took part in the Russian Convoys. Picture: Contributed

The Arctic Star medal is for those who took part in the Russian Convoys. Picture: Contributed

  • by DAVID MADDOX
 

THE new medal for men who braved the some of the harshest conditions in one of the most brutal campaigns of the Second World War has been revealed by the Ministry of Defence.

The Arctic Star will be presented to surviving veterans who took part in the Russian Convoys and the widows of those who perished in the campaign or have died since then.

In addition, a new bar is to be given to those who served in Bomber Command to be attached to the 1939-45 Star as belated recognition for their efforts to defeat the Nazis.

Both awards are the result of a review ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron into the failure to properly recognise after the Second World War the men who served in Bomber Command and the Russian Convoys.

The Arctic Star is based on a design by Scottish Royal Navy veteran Commander Eddie Grenfell, who went to school in Montrose but lives in Portsmouth.

For more than a decade, he led the campaign to get proper recognition for the veterans who braved sub-zero conditions – it was so cold they lost the skin on their hands if they touched the surface on the ship without protection.

The ribbon has dark blue for the Royal Navy, red for the Merchant Navy and light blue for RAF, who were all involved in the campaign, during which ships ran the gauntlet of German air, submarine and battleship attack to get vital supplies to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel to keep the Soviet Union in the war.

The white strip on the ribbon represents the ice and snow the men had to endure as their ships sailed on the edge of the Arctic Circle to try to stay out of reach of attacks.

It is thought the Russian Convoys were ignored by the honours and decorations committee in 1945 as the Soviet Union had become the new enemy and it was seen as embarrassing to celebrate those who had helped it. Instead, the campaign was included with the Atlantic Star, created for a separate campaign to keep the UK supplied during the war.

However, many Arctic veterans failed to qualify for that because of a six-month minimum service limit unique to the Atlantic Star. All other stars had only a one-day qualifying period.

At the end of the Cold War, the convoy veterans began their campaign for formal recognition. Tony Blair’s government went back on a promise to create a medal and former defence secretary John Reid came up with a compromise of creating the Arctic Emblem, which many saw as little better than a badge. The Ministry of Defence also went back on a promise to allow veterans to pin it on to the Atlantic Star.

Trudie Grenfell, the daughter of Cdr Grenfell, said: “My father is absolutely delighted with the medal. He is very pleased that this recognition is coming at long last, just sad that many of his friends have not lived to see it.”

All those men who served for any length of time north of the Arctic Circle are eligible for the Arctic Star.

Those entitled to the new Bomber Command clasp will have previously qualified for the 1939-45 Star. There is an additional requirement to have flown at least one operational sortie as aircrew on a Bomber Command operational unit.

Priority for the new awards will be given to those applications from veterans and widows. Other next of kin are also able to apply and they will receive their awards in a second tranche.

 

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