AN ARCTIC convoy veteran from York has spoken of his delight after David Cameron announced that he and his fellow seamen will finally receive special medals.
Bill Sunderland, 86, of Foxwood Lane, is one of only about 200 veterans still alive who will receive recognition for their bravery in atrocious conditions almost 70 years ago.
The Prime Minister told MPs yesterday that an Arctic Convoy Star medal was to be minted, in line with the recommendations of a review of military medals carried out by former diplomat Sir John Holmes.
“I am very pleased that some of the brave men of the Arctic Convoys will get the recognition they so richly deserve for the very dangerous work they did,” he said, adding that a clasp would also be awarded to “heroic” veterans of RAF Bomber Command.
When the Press broke the good news to Mr Sunderland, who was a Royal Navy signalman during the war, the widower said: “I am very pleased, although I am disappointed it has come too late for many veterans who have passed on.
“I’m pleased there is recognition of the conditions we went through, not only coming under enemy fire but also suffering from terrible weather.”
More than 3,000 seamen died over four years from 1941 on missions to keep open supply lines to Soviet ports which were dubbed the “worst journey in the world” by Winston Churchill.
Mr Sunderland has told previously how he survived 40ft waves, torpedo attacks and savagely cold weather which left his ship covered in two inches of ice as the Arctic convoys delivered food, weaponry and other vital supplies to Russia as it fought the Germans in the east.
Earlier this year, Mr Sunderland was delighted when Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree to award him and other veterans the Ushakov Medal in recognition of their “outstanding contribution to the allied co-operation” during theSecond World War.
But his joy turned to disgust in the autumn when it emerged that the British Government had blocked the Russian proposals.
The Foreign Office said then that it very much appreciated the Russian Government’s wish to recognise the veterans’ “brave and valuable” service, but said the rules on the acceptance of foreign awards clearly stated that in order for permission to be given for an award to be accepted, the service had to have taken place within the previous five years.
Yesterday’s announcement was welcomed as ‘marvellous news’ by representatives of the York branch of the Royal Naval Association, although they expressed regret that it had come too late for many veterans.