After a vigorous campaign to secure recognition for those who sailed on the Arctic Convoys in the Second World War, Roy Dykes and Eddie Grenfell were amongst those who were presented with the emblem by Defence Minister Derek Twigg.
"Lt Commander Roy Dykes DSC VRD, a former Mayor of Whitchurch, and a tireless campaigner for recognition of those on the Arctic Convoys, kindly asked me to the ceremony on HMS Belfast as his guest. I would not have missed this very moving event for anything. By definition, all those who won the award are getting on in years, and this was an emotional re-union for them all. Roy Dykes has been in constant correspondence with the Ministry of Defence about the lack of recognition by the British Government of those who risked their lives to get supplies to our Soviet Allies in the 1940's, and this injustice has now been put right."
It is my privilege to welcome you to the Quarter Deck of HMS BELFAST.
This event -presentation of the first Arctic Emblems - is one that I have looked forward to ever since I was appointed Veterans Minister in September. And there is no more fitting place to host it than on this "old lady" of the Arctic convoys,
Today we celebrate and commemorate the extraordinary bravery and fortitude of a very special group of men. The Veterans who served in the Arctic between 1939 and 1945.
And Today also marks an important anniversary. Because it was sixty-five years ago, on 11th October 1941, that PQ1, the first of the regular Arctic convoys, arrived at Archangel. Whilst those early convoys had a relatively safe passage it was a very different picture by 1942. By then the convoys faced the deadly might and determination of the German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe.
The Arctic Convoys were a virtual lifeline for our wartime Soviet allies at a time when they were reeling under the onslaught of Hitler’s forces and I am delighted that Capt Yevgeniy Shalobanov, the Russian Naval Attache, is with us today as we remember those difficult times when our countries stood shoulder to shoulder.
Against the odds – and notwithstanding the ill fated PQ17 – the Convoys were a great success. They delivered
12, 755 tanks, 22,200 aircraft and 375,800 trucks, as well as four million tons of ammunition and other supplies which made a crucial contribution to the Soviet war effort. These included a million miles of telephone cable and 15 million pairs of boots.
In all there were a total of 40 outward convoys, involving some 800 ships. In total, 104 merchant ships were sunk during the campaign. The human sacrifice was also high with several thousand seamen losing their lives. We must not forget them. We must preserve what Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin has described as an admiration and respect for those merchant seamen who served on the convoys “that the years can never dim”.
22 Allied warships were sunk and many fine men died with them. Royal Navy losses included two cruisers – including BELFAST’s sister ship, HMS EDINBURGH, six destroyers and eight other escorts sunk. But they hit back hard. The German battlecruiser Scharnhorst was sunk on Boxing Day 1943 and the German navy also lost three large destroyers, and over 30 U-boats.
The majority of those who served in the Arctic Region, and indeed most of you here, were members of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy. But we should remember the other servicemen who were so crucial to the success of the convoys. The Army provided gunners to help defend merchant ships. Royal Air Force Catalina and Sunderland flying-boats played an important part. I believe that we have two flying boat veterans here today.
Then there were the RAF personnel of 151 Wing, who deployed to Murmansk in northern Russia with their Hurricanes during the dark days of autumn 1941. They provided air cover to the convoys on the final leg of their journey in what were arguably some of the most challenging conditions experienced by RAF airmen during the war. Or the Hampden crews who took such heavy losses also flying from Murmansk in support of the convoys.
Gentlemen – you endured terrible hardships. The pictures around us are a vivid illustration of the conditions you faced. It is hard for most of us today to comprehend what you went through, battling the elements in the face of an enemy intent on your destruction.
I know many experienced the trauma of icy waters and the tragedy of losing close comrades. Admiral Wilkinson has told me about some of the remarkable experiences he himself has heard from Veterans. One recalls that his Catalina aircraft managed to clock up an incredible 26 hours of continuous flight, thanks to the skill of the aircraft’s engineer in controlling its fuel consumption. Another has told how his own life was saved when he narrowly avoided being washed overboard because his glove had become frozen to a door handle. I know that all of you here today have similar stories to tell. I’m very much looking forward to meeting some of you later and hearing about your experiences.
Today also marks the end of another campaign – the campaign for an Arctic award. Commander Eddie Grenfell and his colleagues lobbied successfully – and with great tenacity – for this emblem. Indeed they helped design it. This unique design is – I think – a really fitting tribute. A design that evokes the white of the Arctic, with a red centre representing the fields of the flags of Norway and the Soviet Union. Commander, we have already received over 500,000 applications from Veterans for the Arctic Emblem, and I’m delighted to confirm that these will be sent out over the next couple of weeks.
Today our Veterans are respected and admired throughout their communities up and down the land. They remain a valued and distinguished part of the Armed Forces family – whenever and wherever they have served – and a real asset to this country.
The Arctic Emblem that I am presenting today is a mark of the nation’s gratitude for your incredible achievements. It is a recognition of the terrible and dangerous conditions that you endured in those distant lands and waters. And for the huge contribution that all service north of the Arctic Circle made to the successful outcome of the war.
So I am delighted, and honoured, to present some of the first Arctic Emblems to the Veterans here today. I am told that standing before the Captain’s Table would normally be an unnerving experience for those of you who served in the Royal Navy. I trust this will not be the case today!
And finally, I have one further Arctic Emblem to award today and that is to the biggest veteran of them all…. HMS BELFAST which I present in recognition of the role that the ship played in the Arctic and as a symbol for all of those who cannot be with us today.