Urgent review into WW2 Arctic medal needed

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Urgent review into WW2 Arctic medal needed
17 July 2012

Whitehall should look into a long-running campaign by Arctic convoy veterans for a war medal forthwith.

A report, instigated by the prime minister, says a review of overlooked campaigns and medals should begin with the Arctic – a vital campaign not formally recognised in the aftermath of WW2.

Ships of the soon-to-be-massacred Convoy PQ17 gather in Iceland before sailing for the Kola Peninsula in the summer of 1942

URGENT action should be taken to determine whether naval veterans who served in the Arctic in WW2 should receive a belated medal.

Senior diplomat Sir John Holmes today reported his initial findings after a two-month review of the controversial subject of campaign medals for Servicemen and women.

Sir John was asked by Premier David Cameron into campaign decorations – not gallantry awards or Long Service and Good Conduct Medals.

The review follows some long-running campaigns for recognition – Arctic convoy, Bomber Command, the Malaya – as veterans felt Whitehall was often “unduly dismissive” of their claims for a medal.

Arctic veterans, for example, stress that their campaign, delivering supplies to the USSR was entirely different from that in the Atlantic (keeping Britain’s sea lanes open): different aims, different conditions – and should have been recognised with a specific medal, not the Atlantic Star.

But the response to Sir John’s initial review, has also found that some serving personnel and veterans would like medal recognition for other overlooked deeds: Cold War submarine patrols, RN surface deployments beyond the Gulf, mine clearance work and a Libya medal (the latter is still being considered by Whitehall).

The Escort carrier HMS Trumpeter edges through the pack ice as a Russian tug helps her take up her moorings in the Kola Inlet, April 1944

Over May and June, Sir John interviewed or received responses from more than 200 veterans, groups, officials and senior commanders, including survivors of the Yangtze Incident and Arctic convoys, former National Servicemen, MOD ministers past and present, MPs and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.

Sir John believes overall Britain’s medal policy is sound and “there is no appetite or good reason to change”: there is a fine line between recognising the actions of those who gave selfless service for years and devaluing medals by issuing them too freely.

He adds: “A British military campaign medal should be something which has been hard-earned – and should be seen to be so by all concerned, so that it can be worn with special pride.”

However, he argues that the current “blanket refusal” to consider historic medals should change and, given the age of the dwindling band of survivors, the controversy around WW2 medals, especially Arctic veterans, should be dealt with first and foremost.

Although not part of this specific campaign medal review, the idea of a ‘National Defence Medal’ – recognisingany service in the Armed Forces as raised and Sir John says the Cabinet Office should investigate the matter further.

Mr Cameron has welcomed Sir John’s report and has asked him to press on with his work for a second report to be placed before Parliament in the autumn.

The PM said the initial findings pointed the way ahead to deal with “past grievances while maintaining the distinctive British tradition that military medals are hard-earned.

“I hope this will help to draw a line under past campaigns and provide a more open decision-making process in future.”

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