'Disgraceful' medals snub for west Cornwall convoy veterans
TWO west Cornwall sailors who risked their lives as part of the notorious Arctic Convoys of the Second World War have been banned from receiving medals for their valour because of government red tape.
The men, many of whom were drawn from the West Country's Royal and Merchant Navy community, took part in the missions, which Churchill described as "the worst journey in the world", to deliver lifesaving supplies to Soviet allies.
Along with other veterans of the campaign, Geoff Helmore, from Praa Sands, 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 are barred from accepting.
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Mr Helmore, a retired head teacher, said it was an insult with injury added by the fact other Commonwealth countries 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 governments of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America have said 'yes please'."
Stanley Bowles, from Rosudgeon, is another Arctic Convoy veteran.
The 92-year-old's stepdaughter, Penney Hosking, said: "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) said service was recognised with the Atlantic Star decoration. But the Royal British Legion disagreed 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," he said.
"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."
In a letter to Mr Helmore, Alexander Yakovenko, Russian ambassador to the UK, spoke of his 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 said his embassy would continue to pressure the British Government.
An FCO spokesman said: "We very much appreciate the Russian Government's wish to recognise the brave and valuable service given by veterans of the Arctic Convoys. 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."