Heroes of Russian convoys let down by red tape
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."