Now’s the time to keep on pushing

By Charlotte Hofton

Friday, January 4, 2013

 

THE VIEW FROM HERE BETTER late than never, I suppose, so let’s give two cheers to the government for its recent decision to award a campaign medal to veterans of the Arctic convoys.

No more than two cheers, though (and it’s only because it’s the season of goodwill I haven’t marked them down to a solitary hurrah) and certainly not the usual full complement of three. Firstly, because it’s taken 70 years for this medal to be awarded and, secondly, because they’re still being eejits over the award of the Russian Medal of Ushakov to these heroes.

I have previously written about Shanklin resident Alec Penstone, who served on Arctic convoys between 1943 and 1945. Delighted at the prospect of receiving the Medal of Ushakov from the Russians in gratitude for his bravery, he was swiftly disabused of any such pleasure by the British government, which told him he couldn’t have it because he hadn’t performed any specific service to Russia in the past five years.

Now Mr Penstone (doubtless speaking on behalf of the rapidly dwindling band of convoy veterans, those brave old men who should, of course, be given any medal that’s going without some idiot in Whitehall getting out some pettifogging rule book) has declared himself "tickled pink" about the campaign medal.

However, he’s still understandably peeved at being denied the Medal of Ushakov.

"I can’t see us getting the Russian one now. The reason they will give is that two medals can’t be issued for the same event."

Well, let’s keep trying, shall we? I mentioned a few weeks ago I had written to both the foreign secretary and the prime minister asking what they had to say about the government’s refusal to allow Alec and his comrades to have the Russian medal.

At the time, the foreign office hadn’t replied at all and I had received nothing beyond an entirely uninterested letter from Downing Street.

Since, then, however, I have had a letter from the Foreign Office. Unlike the Down-ing Street two-liner, with its indecipherable scrawl at the bottom, it is properly signed by Judith Usher, of the Protocol Directorate.

She writes: "I should like to point out that we do understand the strong views this subject evokes and can assure you we very much appreciate the Russian government’s continuing wish to recognise the brave and valuable service given by all the veterans of the Arctic convoys."

She has also sent me a copy of the current rules governing the acceptance of foreign awards and by which the Foreign Office is bound.

But all may not be lost. Judith Usher, whom I increasingly admire with every line I read of her admirably clear explanation of the system, tells me Sir John Holmes, who last July published a Military Medals Review, recommended a fresh look at the policy on the acceptance of medals from the government of another county.

Furthermore, writes Judith Usher, "Sir John is undertaking further work to implement his recommendations…we therefore await the outcome of his work."

So that’s potentially rather good, isn’t it? But we can’t relax until our heroes get every medal they deserve, including Russian ones.

I’m not clued up on Sir John Holmes but I fully intend to be, very shortly, and he’ll be hearing from me.

I’ve also got Judith Usher’s name in my little book. Won’t bother about the dipstick at Number Ten, though. Organ grinder and monkey, you know, and I reckon Sir John and the excellent Ms Usher are the ones in charge.

The monkeys in Downing Street can just keep gibbering on about gay marriages and whatever other loony issue next pops into the prime minister’s head.

A Boxing Day hunting shock

BOXING Day can bring unpleasant surprises — hangovers, indigestion, a complete stranger stretched out on the sofa, that sort of thing — but I was particularly unprepared for the unwelcome voice that greeted me as I sleepily tuned into the Today programme on my bedside radio.

In an item about hunting, they had wheeled out the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports.

It was none other than Joe "Vera" Duckworth. You know, used to be our council chief executive, cost us a load of money, had some ridiculous idea about thinking caps, said he wasn’t going to leave us, then did. Went to Newham, cost them even more, said he was going to "make sure local people get the most out of the 2012 games", left two years before the games, massive redundancy pay-out.

Pity the poor fox. All those shouty people on horses wanting to chase you and, worse, Joe Duckworth deciding he’s your best mate.

Still, cheer up, Reynard. The shouty people haven’t got an earthly and Mr Duckworth will move on within two years. Always does. Hope the League’s got its chequebook ready.

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