The Arctic Star Medal
In the past Sea Breezes has criticised the failure of successive British governments, over the years, to properly honour the men of the Merchant Navy and Armed Forces who served on the dreadful Arctic convoys of World War 2. Their role in keeping our then ally Russia supplied, through the ports of Murmansk and Archangel, was vital to the war effort and the long road to eventual victory.
Seafarers sailed in the most inhospitable conditions imaginable and were always subject to attack from submarines, surface ships and from the air. The war time Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, called it “the worst journey in the world”. The success of those convoys came at a dreadful price with heavy losses of ships and men.
Much has been written about these convoys. The literary debut of Scottish author Alistair MacLean – HMS Ulysees – is a celebrated account of the Arctic Convoys, and seen as one of the classic descriptions of war at sea in World War 2. MacLean went on to write such novels as The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare, which were both later made into films. Dutch novelist Jan de Hartog’s The Captain is another famous account of the convoys. Despite this coverage of such a famous naval episode in the history of World War 2, it has taken 67 years for official Government recognition of those who delivered such vital aid to the USSR and with such outstanding success – the vast majority of supplies arrived safely in the Soviet Union.
That it has taken successive Governments so long to do the right thing by these brave men is shameful, but in late December 2012 the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that the decision had been made to award a medal for service on the Arctic Convoys. Full credit to the Prime Minister however, as his words were quickly followed by action - in February the Royal Mint struck the “Arctic Star” medal.
Sadly the award has come too late for so many, as there are now thought to be only around 200 veterans of these convoys still alive, but the medal is also to be awarded posthumously. That means that widows and the next of kin of veterans who have died can apply for the medal. I do hope that the surviving veterans will get their medals quickly and that they and the widows and families of those no longer with us, will take pride and comfort in the richly deserved honour now bestowed.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR