Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: A disgraceful way to treat a war hero

By any standards Tommy Jess is a hero. Now aged 89, he is a survivor of the notorious Arctic convoys which kept Russians supplied with food and other necessities of life while war was being waged against the Nazis on the Eastern Front.

Without heroic seamen like Tommy, those convoys would never have got through and this vital battle - the turning point of the Second World War - could well have been lost.

Russia recognises the debt it owes to the men like Tommy. It wants to give a medal to each of the handful of survivors still living, but astonishingly the Foreign Office has refused the offer. Why are those British survivors different from the American, Canadian and Australian veterans who have already accepted the medal with their countries' blessing? One can understand that in the immediate aftermath of the war when relationships between the west and the communist Soviet Union deteriorated that such an offer would have been snubbed.

But today the political climate is much different. The Cold War has thawed and the Soviet Union has been broken up. Yet the veterans who suffered so much to help defeat the Nazis have never been given any formal recognition of their role or the fact that 3,000 of them died. They were offered the Atlantic Star but that was for a different theatre of war. Politicians have consistently said that something must be done to recognise the veterans, but nothing ever is no matter which party gets in power.

To keep denying these sailors their own medal, quite simply is a scandal. Politicians, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence hide behind all kinds of convenient rules and excuses to avoid doing the decent thing. Tommy and the thousands of other men who sailed with him didn't prevaricate when they were asked to put their lives on the line. They did they duty and now the Government should do its duty. Give these men their own medal in recognition of their outstanding devotion to their country. It's now too late for most of them, but it isn't too late for Tommy and his fellow survivors.

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