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Arctic Convoy veteran Bill Sunderland denied war medal from Russians
AN ARCTIC convoy veteran from York has spoken of his disgust after the British Government blocked Russian plans to present him with a special medal.
Widower Bill Sunderland, 86, of Foxwood Lane, was delighted earlier this year 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 the Second World War.
Bill told how he had 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. He said he felt “quite honoured” by the award.
But now the British Foreign Office has intervened to prevent the medal being presented, even though the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Canada are all reported to have granted permission for their citizens to get it.
Mr Sunderland, who served on board the destroyer HMS Serapis, said yesterday: “It’s disgusting. It’s appalling. It wasn’t even going to cost the British Government a penny.
“This wasn’t a film. We were real people out there, some of whom were being killed. Some of my friends lost their lives.”
The Foreign Office said it very much appreciated the Russian Government’s wish to recognise the veterans “brave and valuable” service, but a spokesman 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,” said a spokesperson.
“Additionally, permission cannot be granted if they have received, or are expected to receive, a UK award for the same services. All British veterans of the convoys were eligible for the WWII Atlantic Star. Additionally, a lapel badge (the Arctic Emblem) was introduced in 2006 and some 10,000 have been issued.
“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.”
The Russian Embassy in London said the decision gave it grounds for “deep regret,” adding: “We consider such rationale cannot serve the basis for a refusal to recognise the heroic service of the British convoy veterans. We hope that the British authorities will reconsider this bureaucratic formality and review their position.”
Peter Shepherd, chairman of the York branch of the Royal Naval Association, said yesterday: “I think it’s disgraceful, and they should think again.”
York Central MP Hugh Bayley said he would ask the Foreign Office to review the decision, adding: “These people on the convoys went through hell. If other countries can agree to this, I cannot see why Britain can’t.”