Prime Minister pressed to intervene in Arctic Convoy medals row (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Redcar MP urges quick decision on behalf of his constituent
DAVID Cameron has promised a quick decision on whether to award a medal to Arctic Convoy veterans, after a plea on behalf of a North-East pensioner.
The Prime Minister was pressed over the long wait of 67 years endured by the heroes who served on merchant ships delivering supplies to Stalin's Red Army, on the Eastern Front, in the most horrific conditions.
As many as 3,000 seamen lost their lives in what Winston Churchill called "the worst journey in the world", while many more had their limbs amputated after suffering frostbite.
There are only about 200 survivors, among them 87-year-old John Ramsay, from Redcar, a former seaman and gunner who has long campaigned for a medal to be awarded.
Last week, it was revealed that the Russian Embassy has written to Mr Ramsay, and other survivors of the perilous campaign, to announce that Moscow wanted to award them with a medal.
However, the Foreign Office has blocked the idea, insisting it would break rules that prevent the award of medals by a "foreign state", except in very limited circumstances.
Today (Weds, Oct 31), the issue was raised in the Commons, when Ian Swales, the Liberal Democrat MP for Redcar, urged Mr Cameron to think again.
Mr Swales said: "The Russians want to award the prestigious Medal of Ushakov. The governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA have agreed - but the United Kingdom government has refused.
"Will the Prime Minister get this decision reversed quickly, so that my constituent - John Ramsay - and the other dwindling band of veterans get the recognition they so richly deserve?"
In reply, Mr Cameron ducked the row over the Russian medal, but said: "I have every sympathy with my honourable friend and with his constituent.
"That is why we have asked Sir John Holmes to conduct this review, not just into medals in general, but to look specifically at some of the most important cases.
"The Arctic Convoy, I think, is probably the most pressing. And, as you asked, he is getting on with it."
That review was set up in April, after the Prime Minister was accused of reneging on his promise to the veterans to recognise their sacrifice There were protests at the Commons, last year, when defence minister Andrew Robathan threw doubt on the campaign - suggesting Britain did not "throw around" medals.
More than 66,000 British sailors and merchant seamen braved sub-zero temperatures on the Arctic Convoy. Nearly 90 merchant ships - plus 18 Royal Navy warships - were sunk.
When the war ended, those on the convoy were awarded the Atlantic Star - even though that was a separate campaign, 800 miles away.