Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Thursday, December 20, 2012
A north Norfolk veteran of the second world war Arctic convoys campaign has welcomed David Cameron’s announcement that he and his comrades will at last be awarded medals recognising their service.
As an able seaman in the Royal Navy, Ronald Thake helped keep supply lines open by laying mines in the Arctic Ocean to stop Russian ships being torpedoed by the Germans.
The prime minister announced this week that the ”brave men” who enabled supplies to reach the Soviet Union despite German blockades richly deserved recognition and would receive an Arctic Convoy Star. Aircrew who served with Bomber Command would also receive a clasp.
“It’s about time. We’ve waited 70 years for this. They should have given them out straight after the war,” said Mr Thake, who has already been awarded the Atlantic Star and the Arctic Emblem.
“Winston Churchill described the Arctic as ‘the worst journey in the world’ - a suicide run. There was a big German base at the North Cape in Norway.”
Mr Thake recalled wearing the same clothes for five days, topped off with a duffel coat, transport coat, gloves, goggles and boots, as he went about his work on HMS Apollo.
“It was so cold - the sea was half frozen. It didn’t break, it sort of rolled. We had to back right up to the ice floes,” Mr Thake recalled.
More than 3,000 seamen died and there are only an estimated 400 surviving Arctic convoy veterans today.
Mr Cameron’s announcement follows a review by Sir John Holmes into the rules and principles governing the award of military campaign medals.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “I raised this with the minister on behalf of the many constituents who contacted me to voice their support for recognition for the veterans of the Arctic convoy. I am thrilled that the prime minister has seen the importance of this issue and particularly of resolving it swiftly.”
The Lib Dems had been working on the medal review for over a year to ensure the extraordinary service of veterans was recognised, no matter how long ago their bravery was displayed.