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World War Two Veterans Banned From Collecting Russian Bravery Medals

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Thousands of World War Two veterans who took part in what Winston Churchill described as "the worst journey in the world" have been told they cannot collect their bravery medals.

Some 3,000 servicemen who took part in Arctic missions to support fighting on the eastern front have now been offered Ushakov medals by the Russian government to recognise their extreme courage.

But they have been told by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that accepting the medals would break rules in this country.

medal_of_ushakov1

The medal of Ushakov is a bravery medal

Among those who took part in the daring campaign was Lieutenant Commander Roy Francis, 90, from Forncett St Mary, Norfolk, who served on the cruiser HMS Edinburgh when it travelled to Murmansk in 1942 as the flagship for the convoys.

On the return journey the cruiser, carrying four tonnes of gold bullion as payment from Stalin, was attacked over successive days by waves of enemy aircraft, submarines and destroyers.

The ship was hit by two torpedoes and, despite fighting on for three days, was eventually sunk by a third.

Two officers and 56 seamen died as the rest were evacuated to other ships.

winston churchill

Winston Churchill had described the voyage as 'the worst in the world'

Lt Cdr Francis said: "Arctic convoys were renowned to be the toughest voyages. In addition to the threats from U-boats, bombers and surface craft to all convoys, the main enemy was the bitter cold.

"I've known of ships where the build-up of ice led to the whole thing capsizing and the ship disappearing with all hands.

"We had to keep chipping away at the ice, were constantly wet and it was normally too cold to sleep when off watch."

The FCO told veterans that because they have already been honoured with the Atlantic Star campaign medal, they could not accept the Russian offer.

They were also told that their service had to have taken place in the last five years for them to be eligible.

It has recently announced the creation of a specific Arctic campaign medal to recognise the severe hardships of this part of naval history.

Lt Cdr Francis said: "I'm pleased to see that this government has finally agreed to give us a British campaign medal.

"I'm told that checking eligibility for the award may take months, though, so I'm hoping I'll still be around when all of the bureaucracy has been carried out. None of us are getting any younger.

"I think they have got it wrong, though. The Russian government wants to give us a bravery medal, not a campaign medal. There is a big difference.

"Why can't our government bend the rules when the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and American governments have all allowed their veterans to accept this great honour?

"I think the government should do what is right by the thousands of us who endured for freedom all those years ago, many of whom never made it."

A spokesman for the FCO said the department appreciated the Russian government's wish to recognise the "brave and valuable" service given by veterans of the Arctic convoys.

He said: "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.

"Additionally, permission cannot be granted if they have received, or are expected to receive, a UK award for the same services.

"We look at each request for permission to confer a foreign or Commonwealth state award upon a British citizen on an individual case-by-case basis."

A lapel badge - the Arctic Emblem - was introduced in 2006 and some 10,000 have been issued. Last year, the Prime Minister asked Sir John Holmes to review the current policy on military medals, the FCO added.

An e-petition asking the Government to reconsider has been set up on Downing Street's website and can be found at submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/40174.