Honour For Forgotten WWII Veterans 'In Weeks'

Veterans of the World War Two Arctic Convoys and Bomber Command are due to receive recognition for their bravery within weeks.

The Government has announced that the newly designed Arctic Star and Bomber Command gold clasp will be available to almost a quarter of a million veterans or their families. Production of the awards will start this week.

The Arctic Star will be based on the World War Two Stars and the Bomber Command clasp, to be worn on the ribbon of the 1939 to 1945 Star, which will follow the design of the Battle of Britain clasp.

Veterans Minister Mark Francois said: "All those who served our country in Bomber Command and on the Arctic Convoys deserve nothing but the utmost respect and admiration from us.

"That's why I am delighted that these special individuals will in the next few weeks begin to receive the Bomber Command clasp and Arctic Star that they have so long deserved.

"I am also pleased to announce that the families of those no longer alive will also be able to apply for these awards in recognition of their loved ones' bravery."

The decision to award the medals was announced by the Prime Minister in December.

It capped a long battle for recognition by Operation Dervish veterans, who embarked on what Winston Churchill called the "worst journey in the world" to keep supply lines open. More than 3,000 died.

Between 1941-45, merchant ships delivered supplies to the Soviet Union - primarily the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk - escorted by the Royal Navy and their counterparts from Canada and the US.

They have been credited with keeping Russian morale up in the fight against Nazi Germany.

Only about 400 veterans are thought to still be alive.

Their efforts to secure formal recognition had been repeatedly rebuffed on the grounds of protocol and because the Cold War had made the decision politically unpalatable.

Likewise, it has long been thought that the feats and bravery of Bomber Command have been ignored when compared to their colleagues Fighter Command.

While Fighter Command, made up of Spitfires and Hurricanes, did invaluable work protecting the skies over Britain, Bomber Command attacked enemy sites abroad, flying dangerous sorties against munitions, factories, ships, troops and air bases.

When the announcement was made towards the end of last year, Commander Eddie Grenfell, an Arctic Convoy veteran and leading campaigner for recognition, told Sky News that he was "pleased but not delighted" and accused Mr Cameron of taking too long.

"In the meantime God knows how many of my Arctic Convoy chums have died waiting," said the 92-year-old from Portsmouth.

Cmdr Grenfell, one of the few to be rescued when his ship was blown to pieces on one mission, served in a number of theatres during the war but said none was as horrific as the Arctic.

Once the conflict ended, he said it was impossible to campaign for a medal for helping the Russians because Moscow was then the enemy.

When relations thawed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, an attempt to secure recognition was refused because of a rule saying medals can be awarded only within five years of the end of a war.

The Bomber Command clasp will attach to the 1939 to 1945 Star. Anyone who flew at least one operational sortie will qualify.

Eligible veterans and next of kin are now encouraged to apply for the new awards. Details and an application form can be found at www.veterans-uk.info or by telephoning 08457 800 900