‘Arctic Convoy veterans must be recognised’

Petty Officer Robert James Campbell. INNT 46-008-FP
Petty Officer Robert James Campbell. INNT 46-008-FP
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A RATHCOOLE woman whose father won the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) during the Second World War has backed calls for the government to recognise the ‘forgotten’ seamen who served on the Arctic Convoys.

Speaking to the Times on the eve of Remembrance Weekend, Lilly Meldrum said that men like her late father, Robert Campbell, who ran the gauntlet of German warplanes and U-boats between 1941 and 1945 to get vital supplies to the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front, deserve to be properly recognised for their bravery.

Around 95 per cent of the 66,500 men who served on the Arctic Convoys had already earned the Atlantic Star before being conscripted on to the dreaded ‘Russian Run’, but veterans of the allied convoys have never received a separate Arctic Medal - something that campaigners have been lobbying the government to put right.

One of those campaigners is local DUP councillor, alderman Billy Ball, who has written to the Ministry of Defence and HM The Queen asking for an Arctic Medal to be struck.

Voicing her backing for alderman Ball and the campaign for suitable recognition for those who braved what Winston Churchill described as ‘the worst journey in the world’, Mrs Meldrum told how her father was never the same after returning home from the war, rarely speaking about his harrowing experiences.

Robert James Campbell, known to his friends as Jimmy, was brought up in the Crumlin Road area of Belfast and joined the Merchant Navy at the outbreak of the Second World War.

A gunnery specialist in the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships organisation, he served on the rescue ship SS Rathlin - a converted cattle transporter - which plucked survivors from the freezing North Atlantic and Arctic Sea, later going on to serve in the Far East.

As a Temporary Acting Petty Officer, he was awarded the oak leaf emblem in 1943 for “courage and devoted rescue work” and “for skill in shooting down two enemy aircraft”. He was Mentioned in Despatches twice and in 1945 was awarded the DSM for “outstanding service in the face of the enemy”.

Mr Campbell passed away in 1988 at the age of 74, but earlier this year his daughter applied to the MOD Medal Office for the Arctic Emblem he was entitled to. Now she would like to be able to apply for the Arctic Medal she believes he, and so many others like him, should have been awarded after the war.

“I think they (the government) neglected them after the war - they came home to nothing a lot of them. They didn’t get treated like the heroes they were,” Mrs Meldrum said.

The retired tobacco factory worker, who has lived in Rathcoole for over 50 years, says those who served in the Two World Wars and subsequent conflicts should never be forgotten.

“Myself and my immediate family are all very supportive of what Billy Ball and others like him are campaigning for. These men certainly deserved more than what they got. Giving them a medal is the least they (the government) could do.

“These brave men who gave everything they had, many who gave their lives, for the allied cause should never be forgotten,” she added.

Mrs Meldrum urged more people to lobby their MP to put pressure on the government to strike an Arctic Medal.