Brave men, a weak decision

By Charlotte Hofton

Published on Friday, November 02, 2012 - 11:14


Brave men, a weak decision

Alec Penstone, a veteran of the Arctic convoys.

THE VIEW FROM HERE GOOD to see outstanding bravery acknowledged and among the bravest of the Second World War were those who served in Arctic convoys.

Every crew member, whether on the merchant ships which carried vital supplies for the Soviet Union or on their naval escort vessels, encountered unimaginably hideous conditions.

Constantly hammered by wind, wave, ice and enemy fire, these men did their duty with infinite courage, many of them sacrificing their lives in those nightmare seas.

A richly deserved tribute, then, for Harold 'Doug’ Turtle, one of the last survivors of HMS King George V, to receive the Medal of Ushakov at this year’s IW Lord Lieutenant’s awards.

The medal was awarded by the Russian Federation in recognition of those who served their Soviet allies with such valour and Doug, with typical selflessness, dedicated his medal "to those who lost their lives on the convoys".

The Island should be very proud of Doug, a resident at St Vincent’s home for ex-servicemen, at Ryde. And we should be especially pleased he has managed to get his hands on

the Medal of Ushakov at all, because our own government appears to be doing its damnedest to block the gratitude of the Russians.

Others have not been so lucky. Alec Penstone, 87,who lives at Shanklin, served on Arctic convoys as a Royal Navy submarine detector between 1943 and 1945 and was naturally delighted to receive a letter from the Russian Embassy earlier this year saying they would like to award him the Medal of Ushakov in recognition of his bravery.

Before they could do so, however, they would have to obtain permission from the British government for Mr Penstone to receive his medal. Could he please supply details of his activities over the past five years?

Now hold tight and prepare to be outraged.

Because he hasn’t actually done anything directly to serve the Russians in the past five years, the British government says he cannot receive the medal.

Mr Penstone has just received another letter from the Russian Embassy expressing their deep regret at the Foreign Office’s refusal and noting that, by contrast, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA have all allowed their citizens to receive the award.

The letter concludes with "profound gratitude" to Mr Penstone and the words: "We hope this is not the end of the story."

We should all hope so, too, and do everything we can to make sure it isn’t.

How dare the government adopt this mealy-mouthed stance? Just listen to its pathetic excuses for its refusal to permit the award of the Ushakov 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 … within the past five years.

"Additionally, permission cannot be granted if they have received … a UK award for the same services."

All this in the name of a government which doshes out medals to every celeb in sight. Actors, TV cooks, rock musicians, anyone who has a delicious life and a high profile, peerages for political cronies, a knighthood for Jimmy Savile, no probs.

Not to mention all those Olympic winners who have already received medals and are now going to get another gong. If that’s not handing out two awards "for the same services", I don’t know what is.

But a medal from a country whose friendship we embraced in the war and which now wants to say thank-you to those heroes? Not allowed.

Pity they aren’t pop stars — the government would be falling over itself to allow them any award they wanted in the cause of courting popularity.

On Remembrance Sunday, those members of the government who have had any hand in this disgrace, particularly foreign secretary William Hague, should bow their heads, not just to remember the fallen, but also to express deep shame.

BLURRING the correct time of year for the IW, Hong Kong, Las Vegas and Venezuela

THE usual palaver last weekend when the clocks went back. I was told very sternly as a child that if I turned the hands of my watch backwards, the consequences would be catastrophic.

Not only would the mechanism break irreparably but there’d be death, destruction and no ice cream ever again. Can this be true? I’m too scared to experiment, so still laboriously wind on 11 hours.

As for the car clock, that’s a complete nightmare. Those stupid little fiddly knobs, backwards, forwards, multiple swearing and all I ever end up with is the time in Hong Kong or Las Vegas.

In 2007, Venezuela’s crazy president, Hugo Chavez, had the country’s clocks turned back by half an hour, putting the place completely out of synch with global timekeeping.

Still, if I ever take my car to Venezuela, I should be fine.

After last weekend’s shenanigans,

I’m pretty sure it’s now showing Chavez time.

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