Arctic veterans hail victory in long battle

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VETERANS who played a vital role in World War II are celebrating being told they will be awarded with service medals – more than 60 years after they earned them.

The Ministry of Defence is producing a new Arctic Star for those who served on the Arctic Convoys carrying vital supplies through Nazi attacks to keep Russia’s war effort alive. The medal will also be available to relatives of convoy veterans who have died.

Members of the West Riding branch of the Russian Convoy Club have told of their shock at the decision after decades of campaigning. These former navy and merchant seamen served on the convoys as teenagers or men in their twenties. The youngest member of their group Don Heighton, who was a marine, is now 86 while the oldest Cyril Gaunt will turn 93 next month.

Mr Heighton from Dewsbury said: “It is good news but it is long overdue. I feel very sorry for the dependants of some of these people because a lot of men have died.”

In the past veterans were told they qualified for an Atlantic Star service medal and in 2006 an Arctic emblem lapel badge was also produced. However for branch members it is only now that they are getting proper recognition for their role in what Winston Churchill called the worst journey in the world.

Ken Burkinshaw, the branch chairman said: “When we went to Downing Street to meet Tony Blair and his henchmen they thought the Atlantic Star covered the Arctic Convoys. They should try swimming in the Arctic if they thought they were the same thing.”

People can find out how to apply for the new medal at www.veterans-uk.info. The branch now hopes the Government will allow them to accept the Ushakov Medal which Russia has offered to convoy veterans. UK Government rules say awards cannot be given by another country for a service done more than five years ago.