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Heroes of Russian convoys let down by red tape

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 10, 2012

  • British sailors took part in dangerous missions to deliver lifesaving supplies to our Russian allies in the Second World War, described by Churchill as 'the worst journey in the world'.

  • The family of Stanley Bowles, 92, say he is 'very upset' by the news.

  • Geoff Helmore, 89, pictured now and during the war, has been told along with other Arctic Convoy veterans that he cannot accept a special medal from Russia for his wartime bravery.

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A VETERAN from Praa Sands is among those who risked their lives as part of the notorious Arctic Convoys of the Second World War but have been banned from receiving medals for their valour because of "shameful" government red tape.

The men took part in the missions to deliver life-saving supplies to Russian allies which Churchill described as "the worst journey in the world".

Along with other veterans of the campaign, Geoff Helmore was offered the Ushakov Medal from the Russian Government in gratitude for his "outstanding contribution".

But because Foreign Office rules demand active support to the awarding power within the past five years, the men, most of whom are in their late eighties and nineties, are barred from accepting.

Mr Helmore, a retired head teacher who lives in Praa Sands, near Helston, said it was an insult with injury added by the fact other Commonwealth powers had allowed their veterans to be decorated.

"It's a disgrace," said the 89-year-old. "It is unnecessary and it's petty. I am just one of the people being deprived of this. Why should we be told 'you can't have this medal' when the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America have said 'yes please'."

Stanley Bowles, from Rosudgeon, near Penzance, was another Arctic Convoy veteran denied the award.

The 92-year-old's stepdaughter, Penney Hosking, said it was appalling.

"Stanley is blind and deaf and lives in a nursing home.

"He was proud to be offered this medal. But when I had to tell him that he could not accept it, he was very upset."

The Arctic Convoys were perilous missions staged to sneak lifesaving supplies to Russian allies under the nose of Nazi-occupied Norway by exploiting a difficult route through the Arctic Ocean.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) says service is recognised with the Atlantic Star decoration.

But the Royal British Legion disagrees and at its annual conference earlier this year voted in favour of a special Arctic Convoy campaign medal.

Mr Helmore, a sub-lieutenant and radar operator on HMS Kent, said the missions had a well-deserved reputation for being hell on earth.

"It was cold, about minus 30, and when the sea splashed on to the deck it froze instantly.

"One man on our ship froze to death on watch.

"In my two convoys, we never had a calm sea – it was always violent.

"The warship I was on was considered expendable and the merchant ships we were protecting in the convoy travelled so slowly they were sitting ducks.

"We were going within 20-30 miles of the coast, well within strike range."

In a letter to Mr Helmore, Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the UK, spoke of his extreme regret at being unable to recognise the contribution of men like Mr Helmore and Mr Bowles.

"I wish to express to you once more on behalf of the people of Russia and the Russian Government our profound gratitude for your heroism and courage," he said.

The ambassador added that his embassy would continue to pressure the British Government and that he hoped "this is not an end of the story".

A spokesman for the FCO said the rules were quite specific.

"We very much appreciate the Russian Government's wish to recognise the brave and valuable service given by veterans of the Arctic Convoys," he said.

"However, the rules on the acceptance of foreign awards clearly state that in order for permission to be given for an award to be accepted, there has to have been specific service to the country concerned and that that service should have taken place within the previous five years."

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  • josdave  |  November 12 2012, 8:25PM

    It's only been 70 years give them time. It's only recently they gave the Ghurkas citizenship of the country they fought for. This country has a terrible record whe it comes to recognising real bravery and yet they hand out honours to overpaid sportsmen/pop stars/ actors etc like it's confetti.

    Rate   2
  • josdave  |  November 12 2012, 8:21PM

    Give them time it's only been 70 years so far. It's only recently the Ghurkas were give citizenship of the country they fought for. This country has a terrible record when it comes to recognising real bravery but they hand out honours to overpaid sportsmen/pop stars/actors who are only doing a safe job like confetti.

    Rate   2
  • Lennart  |  November 11 2012, 9:41PM

    In all of the Remembrance events today the theme of fighting and dying for our freedom is the theme. These men did just that, they died in their thousands: some froze to death whilst on look-out duties on ships covered in ice: where the sea splashed over the deck and froze on the ship and on them. Others went down with their ships and those whom escaped into the sea died within a few minutes at mo st in the icy waters, in extreme weather and incredible seas. They did this for the war effort, to supply our allies with the weapons and munitions to fight fascism: they did it for their country. Now some pathetic individuals in warm, comfortable, heated offices in London say that these veterans in this allegedly free country cannot accept a medal offered by our ally Russia. If that's against the rules drawn up by some jobsworth civil servant, then change them now ~ immediately. Something is wrong somewhere. Will some British politician have the guts to get this sorted and let these men receive the medals they earned? They haven't screwed the system and dipped their hands in the till. They didn't get an immoral bonus to attract the right "man" to the job: they weren't given the choice and received a pittance for their efforts. They aren't terrorists who claim benefits in five different names to fund bomb making (Glasgow court report into the Stockholm terrorist bomb team from Britain). These men fought for freedom and are now being denied it. Bloody disgusitng!

    Rate   7
  • nickthompson  |  November 11 2012, 10:56AM

    CallingtonFox. I agree,it took 70 years for the 55,557 men of Bomber command (average age 22) who gave their lives to be recognised,the brave crews of the Artic Convoys I HOPE will not have to wait so long,God Bless them all.

    Rate   8
  • CallingtonFox  |  November 10 2012, 2:03PM

    Utterly disgraceful, why should there be a time limit at all? Let those brave sailors have the recognition they deserve.

    Rate   12