LONDON — Reay Clarke, who risked his life on World War II Arctic convoys, doesn’t understand why the British government wants him and other elderly veterans to turn down a medal for bravery offered by the Russian government.
“I honestly feel sore about it,” said Clarke, 89. “I think it’s disgraceful that we can’t just say yes to the Russians and tell them to go ahead and issaue the medal. I think they are kind and thoughtful to remember what we did. We should just say, ‘Thank you very much.’ ”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Friday that British sailors cannot accept the Ushakov Medal because they are in line to get a medal from the British government, and also because the events took place more than five years ago.
It is not surprising that the Russian government wants to honor — again — the sailors who participated in the convoys, which helped bring vital equipment to Soviet troops fighting a desperate battle against Hitler’s troops on the eastern front.
The weapons they delivered, including more than 7,500 fighter planes and 5,000 anti-tank guns, helped turn back Hitler’s invading forces, altering the course of the war, said Jacky Brookes, a manager of the Russia Arctic Convoy Museum Project, which plans to build a museum at the spot in northwest Scotland where the convoys were based.
“There were some 3,000 casualties,” she said. “Winston Churchill called it the worst journey in the world. Hitler was keen to sink as many of them as he could. It was an awful experience — they were attacked by U-boats, and ships, and from the air as well. Plus the weather was atrocious. A lot of people just perished from the cold.”
Brookes also feels the government should have allowed the men to receive the Ushakov Medal. She said about 400 are still alive.
“We think they should be allowed to wear it,” she said. “We support any recognition for these brave men, they fought so hard, and many gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
In a statement, Britain’s Foreign Office said it very much appreciates the Russian government’s wish to recognize the veterans. It said, however, that the rules on accepting foreign awards are clear.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced last month a medal will be created and awarded to veterans who were active on the convoys.
But Clarke frets that many veterans will pass away while the details are worked out.
“He’s taken an awful long time,” he said. “There aren’t many of us left.”