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Sunday 16th June 2013 | 20:16
Westminster Russia Forum has expressed its delight at the very first Ushakov Medals being presented to British World War Two Arctic Veterans by David Cameron and Vladimir Putin today.
The British Prime Minister and the Russian President met this afternoon ahead of the G8 Summit to discuss foreign affairs issues and present the prestigious award to twenty of the veterans in Downing Street, with others - the youngest of whom is now 86 - expected to receive their awards at a later date.
Last year an intense campaign was spearheaded by WRF (http://wrforum.us6.list-manage.com/track/click?u=625662a55559d2ca4d3b1bc25&id=a0f5e3a9f0&e=c4d96b5121) , including a letter signed by thirty two Members of Parliament which was submitted to the Honours and Decorations (HD) Committee on Remembrance Day, requesting that British World War Two Veterans be rewarded with a medal in recognition of the part they played in the vital Arctic Convoy missions throughout the Second World War.
The campaign also included a Parliamentary Question by Arctic All Party Group Chair Andrew Rosindell MP to the Foreign Minister demanding the veterans’ service be honoured.
Among the signatories of the letter were former Foreign and Defence Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP; Defence Select Committee Member Julian Brazier MP; Sir Gerald Howarth MP, who committed the Conservative Party to a change in the rule when he was Shadow Defence Minister; and Andrew Griffiths MP who's own father served in the convoys.
In December, David Cameron announced that production of a new Arctic Star medal would begin. However, the Government seemed unwilling to budge on allowing the Veterans to accept the distinct Ushakov Medal from Russia, due to a stipulation that such awards from foreign Governments should reflect activity within the last five years. It is understood that Downing Street intervened to change the decision.
In January Westminster Russia Forum held an Arctic Veterans Reception (http://wrforum.us6.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=625662a55559d2ca4d3b1bc25&id=ba37c5e991&e=c4d96b5121) at which its Chairman Richard Royal urged Members of Parliament, several of whom were present at the event, to speed up the process of designing, producing and distributing the medals. One veteran died just days before he was first due to wear the Arctic Star on May 9th's Victory Day. Royal, who laid a wreath on behalf of WRF that day, had previously expressed disappointment that the Government had not been prepared to bend the rules in the circumstances, but argued that "we have to realise how far we have come and what has been achieved" by securing the Arctic Star.
Between 1941 and 1945 British warships escorted 78 convoys carrying thousands of aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, trucks and tanks, fuel, food, tools and other vital supplies through the Barents Sea to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel in a voyage Winston Churchill described as “the worst journey in the World”.
Richard Royal, the Chairman of Westminster Russia Forum commented:
“We are delighted to see the greatly deserving Veterans in Downing Street today to collect their Ushakov Medals after such a long battle. We are all very grateful to the Government for rethinking this issue and with the G8 approaching I hope it will be the first of many opportunities for the UK and Russia to seek commonalities and joint opportunities.”