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Second World War Arctic convoy veterans honoured at last

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Veterans have welcomed the Government's decision to award campaign medals to those who served in the Arctic convoys of the Second World War.

However, they said it should have happened decades ago.

David Cameron has announced that sailors on warships that defended vessels carrying weapons and food to the Soviet Union would finally be recognised for their bravery.

The Ministry of Defence estimates there are 400 such veterans still alive in the UK.

Bill Merry, 89, from Scraptoft Lane, Leicester, is one of them.

He said: "I am pleased because we have been asking for this for years.

"You got a campaign medal if you fought in North Africa or in Borneo but not if you were with the convoys. It has been a disgrace.

"The Russians gave us medals but our own Government would not. We never understood that.

"I'm pleased that has changed but now there are so few of us left to get the medal now. It should have happened years ago."

Bill served on HMS Westcott as a stoker between 1943 and 1945 and took part in 14 convoys between Iceland, Scotland and the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel.

He said: "The temperatures were freezing and we would have 22 hours of darkness a day.

"Always, at the back of your mind, was the thought a U-boat might be about to sink us. It was hard and frightening."

James Stevens, secretary of Leicester Royal Naval Association, said: "When they are on parade, Arctic Convoy veterans wear a white beret.

"When I see that beret, I think 'thank God it wasn't me'.

"Those men went through one of the war's toughest campaigns and it has long been considered an insult they didn't get a medal for it.

"I'm delighted the Government has at long last changed its mind."

South Leicestershire MP Andrew Robathan caused controversy a year ago with comments made in the House of Commons about medals going to veterans.

Mr Robathan, the armed forces minister, said Britain did not "throw around" honours like Colonel Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein as he discussed the campaign to establish an Arctic convoy medal.

He said: "The intention post-war was not to cover everyone with medals. Medals in the UK mean something.

"Politicians should not revisit decisions made in the past, second-guessing those who are not around to speak for themselves and who knew the details."

When challenged in the House, he said: "I apologise if my comment was taken in the wrong way. That was not the intention."

Mr Robathan was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Mr Cameron said the Arctic convoys veterans richly deserved recognition, while accepting the findings of a review into the rules governing the award of medals.

He said: "I'm very pleased some of the brave men of the Arctic Convoys will get the recognition they so richly deserve."

He also said air crews from Bomber Command would be entitled to a campaign clasp.

Second World War Arctic convoy veterans honoured at last


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