By Caroline Dinenage MP - 6th December 2011
Caroline Dinenage MP writes for PoliticsHome ahead of her Westminster Hall debate today, attended by war veterans, urging the government to recognise those who undertook 'the worst journey in the world'.
Just over seventy years ago, the first Arctic Convoy set out to the Soviet ports of Archangel and Murmansk. Over the next four years, tens of thousands of men would make this perilous journey in freezing conditions to keep the supply line with Russia open.
Today in Parliament, I will urge the Government to recognise these heroes of the Second World War with a medal. The Westminster Hall debate will be attended by a handful of the surviving veterans, all in their late 80s and 90s. This is a testament in part to their spirit, but also a shameful reminder that these elderly men are forced to carry on fighting for the honour that they have long deserved.
The merit of their campaign is beyond doubt. In total, over 66,000 men served in the Arctic Convoys, enduring what Winston Churchill described as 'the worst journey in the world'. On a daily basis they faced sub zero temperatures, sometimes as low as -60C, and constant bombardment by German warplanes, battleships and U-boats. The 9% fatality rate was the highest of any maritime campaign in the War.
Without the Arctic Convoys, it is impossible to imagine how the Red Army could have continued to fight on the Eastern Front. The veterans are hailed as heroes in Russia, where three medals have been issued in recognition of their pivotal role in delivering victory in WWII.
And yet in their own country, they receive no such honour. The Atlantic Star, which they can ostensibly be awarded, refers to a campaign conducted over 800 miles away and requires the veterans to have served for 6 months – something that no man could endure in the hazardous conditions of the Arctic Convoys. It is a gross oversight that arose largely from the unease at honouring a mission associated with Russia in the Cold War dominated landscape after WWII.
Caroline Dinenagehas been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gosport since 2010. She is a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.