A Second World War veteran who risked his life to transport vital supplies to Russia has been denied a bravery medal by the British government. Bob Cowan, 93, and other surviving members of the 1941-1945 Arctic Convoys to the Soviet Union, will not be able to collect the honour from the Russian government because of rules on military medals.
The Russian embassy recently wrote to all surviving sailors on the perilous sea campaign – in which 3,000 troops died delivering food and munitions to allies – to offer them the Ushakov medal for valour.
They have already given the honour to servicemen from Australia, Canada and the US. But now the foreign secretary William Hague has written to Bob, who braved German torpedo attacks when he took part in two convoys in May and October 1942, saying Foreign Office rules prevent him and other veterans from claiming the gong.
Under the rules, former British servicemen and women are not allowed to accept military medals from foreign governments – unless it rewards service performed in the past five years or there is no equivalent medal in Britain.
But campaigners say that bravery by former servicemen such as Bob – who came under a sustained torpedo assault by German U-boats – and others should be awarded a separate bravery medal and should be able to receive the Russian award. Grandad- of-four Bob, who lives in Chorlton, with wife Joyce, 87, said: “It’s a farce.
It seems like they have been trying to sort out (what recognition we should get) for years. It was a matter of life and death and people were dying all around us. “It is not right that the government should now deny us this honour.
I think it needs to be raised in Parliament and they need to give answers to why they will not allow us these medals. Why would the government behave like this? “I don’t think anyone will realise what we went through. I am 93 and there are not many of us left but we need to fight for this. I’d like to receive the Russian medal. The Russian embassy has the silver medal in its possession so it’s just waiting for our government to give it the go-ahead.”
The government confirmed it has declined to honour British members of the Arctic Convoys – saying many have already been honoured with the Atlantic Star medal. The fight to overturn the government ruling has now been taken up by Gorton MP Gerald Kaufman.
And Bob’s friends at Chorlton Good Neighbours now plan to conduct a ceremony in his honour – regardless of what the government decides. Bernard Leach, from the group, said: “Bob is 93 and in poor health and I don’t see why he should not be honoured in this way. It seems mean-spirited of the British government.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We very much appreciate the Russian government’s wish to recognise the brave and valuable service given by veterans of the Arctic Convoys. However, 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.
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 WW2 ‘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. We can never comment on individual cases, but, in general terms, the Russian government would need to provide evidence of direct support for Russia in the last five years for any British citizen to be awarded the Ushakov Medal.”
by the Manchester Evening News