‘Convoy veterans must be recognised for bravery’

Medal campaigner:Alderman Billy Ball. INNT 18-487-RM
Medal campaigner:Alderman Billy Ball. INNT 18-487-RM
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A NEWTOWNABBEY councillor has started a campaign to encourage local authorities and political representatives across Northern Ireland to come together to lobby the government to strike a special medal for a group of ‘forgotten’ Second World War veterans.

Alderman Billy Ball, who served with the Royal Artillery and the Ulster Defence Regiment, is understandably proud of his General Service Medal. And he is adamant that the government must be made to ‘do the right thing’ and present medals to veterans who risked their lives for the allied cause in the freezing Arctic seas.

Between 1941 and 1945, the heroes of the Arctic Convoys ran the gauntlet of German warplanes and U-boats to get vital supplies to the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. In all there were 78 convoys involving around 1,400 merchant ships, escorted by ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and the US Navy.

Around 95 per cent of the 66,500 men who served in 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.

“The present Tory government, under David Cameron, promised that when they got into power they would strike a medal for the men who served on the Arctic Convoys and it has never happened. The government has reneged on its promise because they say it would cost far too much to strike an Arctic Medal - something like £14million - but the actual cost would only be around £600,000,” alderman Ball explained.

“There were 85 Merchant Navy vessels sunk, 16 Royal Navy vessels sunk and 3,000 men were lost on the Arctic Convoys - it’s hard to think what these men had to go through.

“They were being torpedoed and bombed and they had to put up with terrible weather conditions. Winston Churchill called the Arctic convoys ‘the worst journey in the world’ and these guys should be recognised for what they did.

“There are only about 200 men left who served on the Arctic Convoys. Some of them were only 17 at the time and I believe they are all entitled to a medal for what they did. The Russians have already recognised the bravery of those who served on the convoys with special commemorative medals, so surely we should be able to do the same,” he added.

The DUP representative now plans to lobby local councils across Northern Ireland, and MPs and MLAs, for support to put pressure on the government to strike an Arctic Medal. But before he seeks support for such a move from his Newtownabbey colleagues at their Policy and Governance Committee meeting on May 21, he would like to hear from anyone in the borough with personal stories about the Arctic Convoys, or those whose relatives served on the treacherous ‘Arctic Run’.

Alderman Ball can be contacted by telephoning 07917 543674 or via email at wball@newtownabbey.gov.uk