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Medal ban for Arctic naval veterans

Thousands of veterans who sailed on Arctic convoys to support the Russian war effort have been told they cannot collect bravery medals.

Some 3,000 servicemen from across the UK took part in Arctic missions to support fighting on the eastern front during the Second World War in what Winston Churchill described as "the worst journey in the world".

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 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that accepting the medals would break rules in this country.

The FCO told veterans that because they have already been honoured with the Atlantic Star campaign medal, they could not accept the Russian offer. They were also told that their service had to have taken place in the last five years for them to be eligible.

It has recently announced the creation of a specific Arctic campaign medal to recognise the severe hardships of this part of naval history.

Among those who took part in the daring campaign was Lieutenant Commander Roy Francis, 90, from Forncett St Mary, Norfolk, who served on the cruiser HMS Edinburgh when it travelled to Murmansk in 1942 as the flagship for the convoys.

Lt Cdr Francis said: "The Russian government wants to give us a bravery medal, not a campaign medal. There is a big difference. Why can't our Government bend the rules when the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and American governments have all allowed their veterans to accept this great honour?"

A spokesman for the FCO said the department appreciated the Russian government's wish to recognise the "brave and valuable" service given by veterans of the Arctic convoys.

He said: "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."

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