- Delighted David Cameron hails the proudest day of his job as Prime Minister
- Creation of medal was announced war last December after long campaign
- Award honours seamen who kept open supply lines to Soviet ports in WWII
- Winston Churchill described the sea route as ‘worst journey in the world’
14:08, 19 March 2013
18:59, 19 March 2013
David Cameron today hailed the first recipients of the Arctic Star medal as a ‘group of heroes’ and presented them with the newly-created award at a special 10 Downing Street ceremony.
The Prime Minister told the Second World War veterans that it was the proudest day of his job but admitted he was ‘sorry that it has taken 70 years to get to here and to say thank you’.
The creation of the Arctic Star medal and new Bomber Command Clasp were announced 67 years after the war by 46-year-old Mr Cameron last December, following a long-running campaign.
Handshake: Prime Minister David Cameron presents the Arctic Star to World War II veteran Henry Dempster
Joy: Prime Minister David Cameron (right) shows a photograph of Winston Churchill to World War II veteran Ken Whiterod during an Arctic Star medal presentation at Downing Street in central London
Smiles: Prime Minister David Cameron presents the Arctic Star medal to World War II veteran Michael Alston
More than 3,000 seamen died over four
years from 1941 on missions to keep open supply lines to Soviet ports,
travelling what Winston Churchill dubbed the ‘worst journey in the
Around 40 veterans
were included in the first group to receive the medal. The move followed
recommendations of a review of military decorations by former diplomat
Sir John Holmes.
told them: ‘There are lots of extraordinary people I have met in this
room in the last three years and lots of events I have been very proud
to hold. But I can’t think of a group of people that I am more proud to
have in Number 10 Downing Street.
‘I am only sorry that it has taken 70 years to get to here and to say thank you for what you did.
were involved in the most important struggle of the last 100 years when
you were supplying one of our allies in the battle to defeat Hitler and
to defeat fascism in Europe.’
hailed their ‘incredible bravery, incredible courage against
extraordinary odds’ and said younger generations felt unworthy and
inadequate in the presence of veterans who had risked so much.
Discussions: Prime Minister David Cameron speaks with WWII veterans Lt Cdr Dick Dykes (second right), Jock Dempster (right), and HMS Belfast veteran Frank Bond (left) during a visit to HMS Belfast in London
Proud: Prime Minister David Cameron (second right) walks along the deck of HMS Belfast in London with WWII veterans Lt Cdr Dick Dykes (left), Jock Dempster (second left) and HMS Belfast veteran Frank Bond (right)
Together: David Cameron walks along the deck of HMS Belfast with WWII veterans Lt Cdr Dick Dykes (left) Jock Dempster (second left), and HMS Belfast veteran Frank Bond (right) during a visit to the warship
‘So, from the bottom of my heart, a really big thank you, not just from me but from everybody.’
went on: ‘It was not just the Arctic conditions, the extraordinary
weather, it was also the odds of not coming home. I am delighted you are
here today, I am delighted that we are putting right this wrong and
giving you the medal that you so richly deserve.’
‘There are lots
of extraordinary people I have met in this room in the last three years
and lots of events I have been very proud to hold. But I can’t think of a
group of people that I am more proud to have in Number 10 Downing
Prime Minister David Cameron
The Prime Minister praised those who
had campaigned for the medal, including Commander Eddie Grenfell, 93,
who received his award in a special ceremony because he was too ill to
travel, as well as those who had made sure the medal was created quickly
after it was announced in December.
added: ‘I can’t think of a prouder day I have had in this job, or a
group of people I am more honoured to share it with. You are a group of
heroes, thank you.’
who enjoyed a reception with their families after the ceremony, spoke
of their joy at finally getting recognition, but sadness that some
comrades could not be with them.
Dempster, 84, said: ‘Today has been one of the most rewarding days of
my life, not just for myself, for all the veterans and not just for the
veterans who survived, for the ones who have passed and the ones who got
Hard work: Chipping away ice on the deck of H.M.S. Vansittart on convoy escort duty in the Arctic in February 1943. More than 3,000 seamen died over four years on missions to keep open supply lines to Soviet ports
‘Their families have at last got a medal they can look at and tie in with what they died for, so I am happier for them than for myself.
‘We’ve got the medal, we can be proud of it. I can’t express my delight enough.’
Arctic Star: Around 40 veterans were included in the first group to receive the newly-created medal
Mr Dempster, who travelled to London with his wife Maggie from Dunbar, Scotland, said the announcement of an Arctic Star pin by ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair had left people disappointed.
‘This medal is 100% different. I take my hat off to Cameron, Cameron got us the medal.’
But he said the event was tinged with sadness as one of his close friends, also a convoy veteran, died just two weeks ago.
‘There are others who I don’t know but I have been told about who have also died in the last two weeks – so near and yet so far.’
Frank Bond, 89, from Eltham, south-east London, who was joined by daughter Emma Bond, said: ‘It’s the culmination of 72 years since I first went on the Russian convoy, to recognise not what I did but what the sailors who gave their lives did.
‘I am not a hero, I am a survivor but the guys who went up there they really had it rough and a lot of them didn’t come back.’
The Prime Minister visited HMS Belfast with three Arctic Convoy veterans. They gave him a tour around the vessel, showing him where ice was cleared from the deck in perilous circumstances.
Mr Cameron said: ‘They are heroes and I think it’s just so right that we are honouring them today for their incredible service 70 years ago, and I’m really proud as Prime Minister to have set up that review, to make that decision and to get them that medal they so richly deserve.
‘When you hear their stories, it’s truly humbling and I think it’s absolutely right they get their medal.
shouldn’t have taken 70 years for this to be recognised. They were very
brave people and were struggling against appalling odds on those Arctic
Arctic convoys: The seamen travelled what Winston Churchill dubbed the ‘worst journey in the world’
‘They were performing vital duties as well, resupplying our allies in the battle against Hitler, so it’s right that they should get this medal and I’m pleased the Government has taken the right step.’
HMS Belfast celebrated the 75th anniversary of its launch last weekend. One of the most powerful and largest cruisers in the Navy, it saw more than 30 years of active service.
The vessel was out of action for three years in the Second World War, after being hit by a magnetic mine. It then protected the Arctic Convoys on the Russian supply routes and spent five weeks supporting the D-Day landings in the summer of 1944.
‘WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD’
than 3,000 British naval and merchant seaman died between 1941 and 1945
on the convoys, risking their lives braving sub-zero temperatures,
ferocious seas and a gauntlet of German warplanes and U-boats.
ice-covered convoys carried four million tonnes of cargo including
tanks, warplanes, fuel and food to slow Germany’s advances on the
66,000 Royal Navy sailors and merchant seamen took part in what Winston
Churchill described as the ‘worst journey in the world’. Eighty-seven merchant ships and 18 Royal Navy warships were sunk.
the onset of the Cold War meant it was politically difficult to give
them a medal for assisting the Soviet Union and it only now their
sacrifice has been properly recognised.
Those eligible for the new Arctic Star are all those who served for any length of time north of the Arctic Circle.
It has been moored on the Thames since 1971, and was visited by veterans and VIPs during last weekend’s celebrations. It was launched at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast by Mrs Neville Chamberlain in March 1938.
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Mr Cameron returned to Downing Street to present Bomber
Command veterans with a newly-created clasp in recognition of their service.
The creation of the clasp was ordered after Sir John’s
review also concluded that Bomber Command veterans were treated ‘inconsistently’
with their Fighter Command counterparts.
The Prime Minister told the veterans and their families: ‘I
am very, very proud that you are here and this decision has been taken, a right
decision, a correct decision.’
Admitting it was also an ‘overdue’ decision, Mr Cameron said
the whole country owed them a ‘huge debt of gratitude’.
He said Bomber Command had flown missions from the start of
the war until the end, and was ‘vital’ in defeating Nazi Germany.
‘The figures are completely spellbinding,’ he added, saying
that of 125,000 people who joined Bomber Command, 55,000 died.
‘Of every 100 who started 30 missions, at the end of those
30 missions only 16 people would still be part of that air crew; the others
would either be captured, wounded or killed.’
He said he was delighted to be the prime minister who had
played a part in acknowledging their work, adding: ‘We are proud of all you did
for our country.’
- Commander Eddie Grenfell, now 93, has lobbied tirelessly for 16 years
- Released from hospital three weeks ago having been there since October
- Chief of Defence Staff attended special event in Portsmouth, Hampshire
Hero: Arctic convoy veteran Eddie Grenfell, 93, with his Arctic Star medal which he received from the Chief of the Defence Staff in Portsmouth today
The leading figure behind the campaign to award the Arctic Star medal today had his award presented at a special ceremony because he was too ill to travel to the main presentation in London.
Commander Eddie Grenfell, now 93, has lobbied tirelessly for 16 years for the medal to be created and was the first veteran to receive the star.
After the decision was made last December to award the star, the Government was urged to act quickly because of the advancing age and ill-health of Cdr Grenfell as well as other veterans.
Cdr Grenfell was only released from hospital three weeks ago where he had been since last October.
He has suffered a heart attack and two cardiac arrests but managed to build up enough strength to attend today’s ceremony.
The Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards attended the special event at the Mayor’s Parlour at Portsmouth Guildhall, Hampshire, to award Cdr Grenfell.
The head of the UK armed forces had personally requested to attend the event to recognise Cdr Grenfell’s lobbying efforts as well as his service on four of the Arctic convoys to Russia.
Cdr Grenfell arrived in a wheelchair supported by his family at the presentation.
Cdr Grenfell’s campaign, supported by the Portsmouth News, gained massive popular support with a petition of 42,000 signatures being handed to Downing Street in 2004 as well as gaining support from local MPs.
Sir David said: ‘It’s a very, very special day for all of us in the armed forces but especially for a small group who are still with us who did some very special things way back in the Second World War.
Proud: Eddie Grenfell, 93, with his Arctic Star medal which he received from General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff (left) and friends and family at the Mayor’s Parlour in the Guildhall in Portsmouth
‘We are here to celebrate the extraordinary bravery and fortitude of that very special group of men.’
He continued: ‘It’s hard to comprehend
what you and your comrades did battling against an enemy intent on your
destruction. It’s thoroughly humbling and we are all in awe of what you
And praising Cdr Grenfell’s medal
campaign, he said: ‘It was a conspicuous campaign in the way it was
conducted with great dignity.’
Get well soon: Cdr Grenfell received a letter from the Prime Minister wishing him a ‘speedy recovery’
He added: ‘I am delighted both personally and professionally to be here to present the very first Arctic Star on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, the armed forces and, may I say, the entire nation.’
Cdr Grenfell said he felt wonderful to be finally receiving the medal.
He said: ‘If I were to mention the names of all the good people who have helped me and my deputy Lt Cdr Dick Dykes to win our 16-year long battle against bureaucratic injustice, our visitors would have to extend their stay in our beautiful city, Portsmouth.
‘I am, however, not so churlish to ignore the part played by our prime minister David Cameron in achieving today’s success.
‘He has, as I hear, always supported our claim for the award of the British Arctic Star but was hampered by bureaucracy, just as I was.
‘It is just sad that so many of my comrades are no longer with us to receive their medals today.’
He also thanked the Portsmouth News for supporting the campaign.
His daughter, Trudie Grenfell, 65, said: ‘It’s an ecstatic, exciting, amazing day. He can finally put this to rest now after 16 years of hard work where he has sat up night after night at his computer fighting for all of them. I honestly didn’t think it would happen.
‘He’s in ill-health, he has only been out of hospital for three weeks now, he had been in since last October and there were two weeks when we thought he wouldn’t make it.
‘He had two cardiac arrests where they brought him back to life and then there was the heart attack. He certainly is a fighter and I do not think he’s stopped grinning since he got that thing (Arctic Star) in his hand.’
Cdr Grenfell was born in Montrose, Scotland, but left at the age of 16 when he joined the Royal Navy and made Portsmouth his home.
Award honours seamen who kept open supply lines to Soviet ports in WWII – Daily Mail
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