After the obstructionism of decades, who would have thought that the UK government would have the grace to act as quickly as it has.
Late last year, 2012, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made it known that the decision had at last been taken to award a medal. There was, however, no set timescale – although veterans’ organisations have lobbied hard for speed – and no statement on whether or not the medal would be restricted only to surviving veterans.
It was announced earlier today that the Royal Mint in Wales has now struck the Arctic Star medal, recognising the unique contribution to the UK’s and Russia’s very survival in World War II from those who served on the fearful Arctic Convoys to Murmansk and Archangel.
Even better news is that the Arctic Star medal is to be awarded posthumously, with the next of kin of veterans who have since died entitled to apply for the award of the medal in their name.
For those wishing to make such an application, the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum in Loch Ewe already has a ‘talk you through the process’ item on its website here. Just follow the links on the site.
This medal and its posthumous award – necessary with the almost 70 year gap between the service and today – will be a new conduit for the pride felt today for what those veterans who survived the convoys endured – with an awful attrition rate as easy prey for U-boats and the Luftwaffe.
It was the success of these grimly determined convoys in carrying vital supplies to Russia that kept that ally of Britain in the war and underpinned the eventual Allied success.
Many of the Arctic convoys gathered and left from Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, where the Russia Arctic Convoy Museum Project is running its 2013 Russian Arctic Convoy Week from 6th to 10th May – with more surprises promised in what is always a varied and interesting programme. Last year they had an Enigma machine.
Imagine what two occasions are going to be like this year.
The week at Loch Ewe in May will see the veterans who will be there sharing the delight of the long delayed formal recognition of their worth.
And the 2013 National Remembrance Sunday Parade at the Cenotaph in London is bound to see every single Arctic Convoy veteran who can possibly get there, in the parade, wearing this medal with pride and tears in their eyes.
The downside for surviving veterans today is the sorrow in remembering colleagues who have died and will not personally have the honour of wearing that medal.
Tobermory on Mull will share the pleasure in this medal, as the location of the training of the naval escorts for the Arctic convoys.
Jock Dempster, a former President of the Russian Convoy Club Scotland and who, as other veterans, has written for us, was on television earlier this evening, talking of a fellow veteran and friend of his who had died only a week ago. That sad loss was clearly aggravated by the loss of the opportunity to share the moment of the actual possession of the Arctic Star.
Jock’s email is H.DEMPSTER – and, curiosity irresistible, the question was eventually asked, The story is hilarious.
Jock’s father set off from home in Edinburgh to register the name of his baby son. On the way he met an old friend and the pair of them went for a quick drink, which became a few slow ones.
When his father, by then very sentimental, got to the registry office, he departed from the agreed name and registered his son by the name of the friend he had just met.
Jock’s disgusted voice on the phone, saying ‘Henry’, in tones of absolute recoil, offered no offence to the many Henrys whose relationship to their names is comfortable. Jock’s problem was that he never saw himself as a ‘Henry’ – so when, as a very young man, he was in the Merchant Navy and on the Convoys – and was inevitably called ‘Jock’ – he took it to himself with joy.
Now he and his convoy colleagues have the Arctic Star – to add to the long list of medals and awards an enduringly grateful and respectful Russia has showered upon them down the years. At one unforgettable ceremonial reception in Murmansk to mark such as award, Jock gave the response on behalf of the veterans – in Russian.