VETERANS of one of the harshest and most important campaigns of the Second World War are expected to finally get full recognition today for their their bravery after a seven-decade wait, with the creation of an official Arctic campaign medal.
The Scotsman has learned that the government plans to announce today that the men who took part in the Russian Convoys are finally to be awarded a campaign medal after fighting for formal recognition since the mid-1990s. The decision to create a new medal marks a rewriting of the decorations rules, which said that no campaign mentioned for a medal could be considered for a separate decoration.
The Russian Convoys began in 1941, with the aim of keeping the Soviet Union in the war.
Merchant and Royal Navy seamen sailed mostly from Loch Ewe in Scotland through a gauntlet of submarine, air and battleship attacks in sub-zero conditions to get vital supplies to the Soviet ports of Archangel and Murmansk. The convoys saw the heaviest loss of life for a sea campaign in the war. Conditions were so cold that men lost their hands if they touched the surface of ships without gloves.
However, after the war, the veterans were ignored when it came to awarding a campaign medal, because the Soviet Union had become the new enemy. Instead, they were included in the Atlantic Star, which was for a separate campaign to keep Britain supplied. Because the Atlantic Star had a minimum six-month qualification period of service, unique among Second World War campaign medals, most Arctic veterans failed to qualify. Veterans of the Russian Convoys began their campaign to reverse the snub in the mid- 1990s after the Cold War ended. But John Major’s government refused to listen to their case.
Then, despite a promise to create a medal, Tony Blair’s government instead created the Arctic emblem, which did not have official medal status. The Conservatives promised to create a medal when they came to power, but David Cameron put it to an official review under former diplomat Sir John Holmes, who said there was a case for the issue to be revisited.
A Whitehall source has told The Scotsman that Sir John has now recommended a new medal, which has been formally agreed on and is due to be announced today.
Commander Eddie Grenfell, originally from Peterhead, who has led the medal campaign for almost 20 years, said: “If these reports are true it is wonderful news. We always wanted this official recognition for the sacrifices we made and the many who did not come home.
“It just saddens me that many of my chums who hoped for this day have not survived to see it.”
Recently the Foreign Office blocked an attempt by the Russian government to award the remaining veterans one of its highest awards for gallantry.