UK won't let British veterans accept Russian medal

By GREGORY KATZ | January 14, 2013 | 12:32 PM EST

FILE - This is a Wednesday, May 4, 2005 file photo of British World War II veteran, participant of Arctic convoys, Raymond Ball, left speaks with Russian veterans Anatoly Uvarov, center, and Anatoly Livshits in St.Petersburg, Russia, Dozens of British and Russian sailors of the Arctic convoys that dodged German U-boats to bring supplies to the Soviet Union during World War II gathered in St. Petersburg Wednesday to trade memories and mark the anniversary of the Allied victory of the Nazis. Thousands of British veterans who sailed on Arctic convoys to support the Russian war effort have been told they cannot collect bravery medals. Those who took part have now been offered Ushakov medals by the Russian government to recognise their extreme courage. But they have been told by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office Monday Jan. 14, 2013 that accepting the medals would break rules in this country.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

LONDON (AP) — 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 issue 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."

She said the Russian government had periodically honored the Arctic convoy veterans from Britain and other nations.

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."