Judy Terry is a marketing professional who stood down as a councillor in May 2014.
Only a couple of weeks ago, we remembered our brave servicemen and women who had served or lost their lives during the Afghanistan campaign, whilst events between 1914 and 1918 are also rightly being commemorated, but this doesn’t mean we should forget our Second World War heroes.
At the end of 2012, David Cameron at last recognised the oft-forgotten bravery and hardship of the many veterans who served on the Arctic convoy ‘suicide missions’ from 1941 to 1945, delivering arms and other essential supplies to the Russians who were our allies at the time. Perhaps we should remind President Putin
Long overdue, the Arctic Star was introduced as a full campaign medal, authorised by the Queen, with applications invited from survivors and their families from February 2013.
Churchill described the convoys as “the worst journey in the world”, a comment my own father, an RNVR officer, would have agreed with. Three thousand lost their lives in the freezing waters, whilst he and his crew endured the appalling weather and bombardment on fleet minesweepers and destroyers for three years (between Dunkirk and Anzio at the beginning of 1944), including as part of convoy PQ17, which was “mauled by the Luftwaffe and 9 U-boats in the summer of 1942, leading to an order to scatter”. On that occasion, he and his ship ended up in Iceland.
When the Russians awarded their own Arctic Star badge a few years ago, as a local councillor I organised an official presentation by a Russian diplomat in Ipswich for the dozens of local seamen and their relatives. I also received it on behalf of my father (long dead) who learned his maritime skills on converted trawler/minesweepers out of Lowestoft along the East Anglian coastline.
Since I hold all his other medals, I consequently had no hesitation in applying for the UK medal in June 2013. From what little he had said about his experiences, I knew my father would have been very proud that he and his comrades were finally being acknowledged.
I provided as much information as I could on the application form, including a ship’s name, and a list of his medals, including the Russian badge. Over the ensuing months I was asked for further information and responded. Then for months I heard nothing, and – in frustration – wrote to the PM, who had made reference to the Star in the House of Commons during PMQs that day.
Eventually, last November, I received a letter from the MOD Medal Office, telling me that, as the younger of two siblings, I wasn’t eligible to apply (although this was not evident from the original application form, nor mentioned in any previous correspondence; my elder sister has no interest and was estranged from him, making it impossible to raise the matter with her).
I quote: “You should have received a letter explaining that your case would be reviewed by our policy team within the Medal Office together with the policy writers in London. Our current policy is based on intestacy law and in accordance with this, we require permission from your eldest sister in order for you to apply for your father’s medal entitlement. The policy teams have responded and at present the procedures that we must adhere to remain unchanged. This means at this juncture, because you are not the eldest child, we are unable to present you with any medal entitlement…We are in the process of reviewing all policy concerning Next of Kin.”
Given that there is a backlog of approximately 17,000 applications, according to the Chairman of my local Royal British Legion, and the age of applicants, many of whom are dying before they can receive their medals, isn’t it time that local MPs and councillors challenge Ministers in the dying days of this Government, to deliver an important Conservative promise on a belated official recognition?
Just send the medal to all those who have applied. The likelihood of fraud is minimal, and the goodwill created would outweigh any potential disadvantages.
We all complain about bureaucracy – and this is bureaucracy gone mad. It must be costing millions of pounds to scrutinise each application, when their records are evidently available and easily checked. At a time when the defence budget is under strain, these monies would be better spent on caring for our older and injured veterans of all recent wars – not least to support the new rehabilitation centre in Leicestershire.
An injection of common sense is required – urgently. All the more important, when the general election is just weeks away; the Conservatives have a proud history of supporting the Armed Services, unlike the opposition.
Whilst I, and other applicants wait for the process ‘to be reviewed’, the UK Arctic Star is already appearing on eBay. Do we have to resort to buying it on line, instead of receiving the medal with the grateful thanks of our Government?