With Christmas on the doorstep, Prime Minister David Cameron has at last fulfilled a pre-election pledge he broke as soon as got into power.
He has awarded the Arctic Convoy Star medal, which progressive British governments have shamefully refused to do since the end of World War II.
This is for those who served on the Arctic Convoys carrying vital supplies to Russia – from Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, from Oban and from Glasgow to Murmansk on the Kola Inlet and to Archangel on the White Sea.
These supplies kept Russia in the war, an alliance that enabled Britain to survive as an independent democracy and not a defeated colony of the Third Reich
The greatest number of these veterans are members of the Merchant Navy, along with the members of the Royal Navy, whose ships acted as escorts for these most dangerous of all convoys.
They sailed in waters riddled with U-boats, for whom they were soft targets. The U-boat captains aimed to get into the middle of a convoy – and often did – and from that vantage point simply pick off targets.
The convoys were also subject to air attack from the Luftwaffe, since their passage brought them within range of the aces of this feared airforce from occupied Norway.
Then there was the weather – freezing conditions so hazardous an out-breath could freeze in the nostrils and ice had constantly to be chipped off the rails, decks and equipment of the ships for fear the increasing weight of it would capsize the ship.
Sea conditions and attacks caused convoys to scatter, with the thinly spread merchant ships then without the support of the naval escorts – in U-boat predations that were little more than turkey shoots.
The constant dangers made the attrition rate of the convoys shocking.
More than 3,000 seamen were killed during the course of 78 convoys, with 85 merchant ships and 16 navy escort ships destroyed – the cost of delivering 4 million tons of cargo to a Russia that expresses its heartfelt gratitude in repeated medal awards to this day.
Only recently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office turned down a request from Russia to award the convoy veterans another medal. The Foreign Secretary is likely to have known what was in the wind and did not wish to see the shine taken off this belated British recognition.
Now, at last, the unique service of these wartime veterans has been recognised – and the award of the medal will also comfort the descendants of the very many veterans who died after successive governments let them down. Over 66,000 men sailed on these convoys. No more than 200 are alive today. That is the scale of the betrayal.
The Russian Arctic Convoy Museum project team at Aultbea in Wester Ross will be cheering themselves hoarse tonight – and Jock Dempster, former Chair of the Scottish Russian Convoy Association has seen triumph at then end of a long fought campaign.
Well done, in the end, David Cameron but this late action is irretrievably tainted with 67 years of small mindedness, misjudgment and, frankly, service snobbery because these veterans are largely Merchant Navy seamen.