The family of a Northern Ireland war veteran denied a medal for his part in a pivotal Second World War campaign has vowed to take his battle to Downing Street.
Tommy Jess, who will turn 90 next year, was on the HMS Lapwing transporting military supplies to the embattled Soviet frontline when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat an hour from the Russian-held Kola Bay.
Nearly 70 years later, he still breaks down at the memory of friends who never returned from the treacherous Arctic convoys.
The Co Down father-of-five, who nearly lost his life on the convoys, also witnessed the horror of the D-Day landings.
There are just 400 veterans of the Arctic convoys left scattered across the British Isles.
Their heroism has never been marked with an official campaign medal. Tommy’s granddaughter, Laura Graham-Brown (40), said: “The convoys were critical to the Allied campaign because they essentially saved the Russians from starving, by getting supplies up by water.
“And this water was full with U-boats.”
Tommy has received three commemorative medals from the thankful Russians.
But last week the Russian embassy broke the devastating news that Tommy’s application for the Ushakov medal — awarded by a decree of the President of Russia to all participants of the convoys — has been refused by the United Kingdom Foreign Office.
The embassy expressed its “profound regret” at the decision, pointing to administrations in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia where citizens’ applications have been granted.
The decision has deeply upset Tommy, who attends biannual reunions of Arctic convoy veterans near London.
He said: “I feel terribly annoyed, not only for me but for the other survivors — maybe fellas that went through worse than I did.
“I feel terribly let down.
“But it’s not all over yet,” he added.
With a dwindling band of veterans left in the UK, he feels the Foreign Office has taken a cynical decision to decline acceptance of the honour from the Russians.
“I think the British Government are waiting until we all pass on,” the great grandfather-of-10 said.
Laura added: “You talk about Help For Heroes and all the heroes of Afghanistan — and look how they are treating these heroes. It’s made me so angry.
“There’s a big PR campaign by the likes of (David) Cameron, who was pictured the other day getting his poppy at Number 10.
“And look how they are treating men who really went through hell.”
The UK Foreign Office has said that while it “very much appreciates the Russian government’s offer”, rules prevent it from allowing the veterans to accept the medal.
“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.”
But Laura is angry at the bureaucracy.
“We had to submit information to the Russian embassy — what has he done to remember the war and highlight that among his own community.
“He was asked for service books, which are at the bottom of the sea.
“This is the British demanding this.”
She added: “The only thing I can think is that the Russians have embarrassed the British, because of the fact that the British never gave them a campaign medal to start with.
“We want to highlight this to redden the face of the Government.”Background
Arctic convoys carried vital supplies and arms to Britain’s Soviet allies during the Second World War. More than 3,000 sailors lost their lives on the perilous missions.
Commemorations to mark one operation of the Arctic convoys were held in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands in May. Dozens of Americans were killed during Operation Dervish in 1944, when their vessel was driven on to rocks in Wester Ross.