‘Give them the medal they richly deserve’

Former Merchant Seaman  Orston Bulman, of Pinfold Court, Cleadon
Former Merchant Seaman Orston Bulman, of Pinfold Court, Cleadon
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ARCTIC Convoy veterans have hit out at the Government as they were given fresh hope of a medal for serving in the Second World War.

Russia wants to honour the sailors who took part with the Ushakov Medal, but the British Government is blocking it. Now it is being asked to have a rethink.

LAST GATHERING  OF THE RUSSIAN CONVOY CLUB .... The Magnificent Seven from the left John Clayburn , Charlton Innes , Harry Thirlaway , Bob Robertson , Gordon Johnson Robert Eke and Alex Kirk at the Steamboat Mill Dam South Sheilds

LAST GATHERING OF THE RUSSIAN CONVOY CLUB .... The Magnificent Seven from the left John Clayburn , Charlton Innes , Harry Thirlaway , Bob Robertson , Gordon Johnson Robert Eke and Alex Kirk at the Steamboat Mill Dam South Sheilds

Orston Bulman, 93, was an engineer in the Merchant Navy and said he hopes his and his colleagues efforts are finally rewarded.

Mr Bulman, from Cleadon, said: “It’s 60-odd years now since the convoys and it shows the lack of respect from the Government for the work done by the merchant seamen.

“If they are going to present a one I hope they give one to the families of the people who have died because there aren’t many of us left now.

“I was in a convoy transporting 10,000 tons of aviation fluid from America, a submarine came up in the middle of the convoy and torpedoed two of the ships, killing 100 men. There were no survivors.

Merchant Navy 'Orston Bulman

Merchant Navy 'Orston Bulman

“The families of those people should have been presented with a medal as well.”

Fellow veteran John Clayburn, 87, from Fulwell, said the Ushakov medal is a huge honour for the men, as it is the first official gong specifically for those who served on the convoys.

He added: “The men will be hopping mad that they see we are the only group who have been refused the medal, when the other governments have said yes to their men receiving it.

“I hope we are honoured with a medal at some point, and I hope I live long enough to see them given.”

Prime Minister David Cameron gave the veterans fresh hope after he was challenged by Redcar and Labour MP Ian Swales after one of his constituents was denied the honour.

Mr Swales said: “The Russians want to award the prestigious Ushakov medal to Arctic convoy veterans.

“The governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA have agreed. The UK Government have refused.”

Mr Cameron said: “I have every sympathy with you and your constituent and that is why we have asked Sir John Holmes to conduct this review, not just into medals in general but to look specifically at some of the most important cases – of which I think Arctic convoys is probably the most pressing.

“As you ask, he is getting on with it.”

The UK Government has so far not recognised the survivors of the convoys with a dedicated campaign medal, despite a long and hard-fought campaign by veterans.

Mr Bulman, who served in the largest of the Russian Convoys, the PQ16 which sailed to Murmansk, said: “The fact that we have been presented with medals by the Russian government means more now than anything our Government could give us because they they would be being made to to give us it.”

More than 3,000 seamen died in Operation Dervish – the Russian Convoys – which saw vital supplies delivered to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel during the Second World War to help the Russian people.

The PQ16 was such a successful trip to the Soviet Union that it was decided more ships would sail to Russia, thus leading to the disaster that was the PQ17 convoy, which was scattered and destroyed on its way to Archangelunder the orders of Admiral Pound.

Twitter: @Monica_Turnbull