Delight as war veterans finally get rightful recognition

Petty Officer Robert James Campbell. INNT 46-008-FP
Petty Officer Robert James Campbell. INNT 46-008-FP

THE daughter of a war hero who served in the Arctic convoy missions during the Second World War has spoken of her joy after the Prime Minister approved awarding the veterans medals for their bravery.

Rathcoole woman Lilly Meldrum’s father, the late Robert Campbell, ran the gauntlet of German warplanes, U-boats and sub-zero weather conditions between 1941 and 1945 to get vital supplies to the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front.

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 had never received a separate Arctic Medal - something that campaigners have been lobbying the Government to put right.

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that those who served in the treacherous conditions would be recognised.

He said the “brave men” who ensured supplies would get through German blockades to the Soviet Union “richly” deserved recognition.

Robert James Campbell, known to his friends as Jimmy, 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.

This week she spoke of her joy that her father would be recognised for his contribution on the notoriously hard Arctic convoys.

“That has made my Christmas, 20 times over,” Lilly told the Times.

“My father served on the missions with his best friend Bobby and they would never talk about their experiences.

“I would overhear tidbits now and again. The temperatures would be below minus-50 and I heard my father talk about how if they didn’t wear gloves their hands would stick to the guns.

“It was a terrible time, Churchill described it as the ‘worst ever journey’ and I am so glad my father and those veterans still living will be recognised for their efforts.”

The Russian government is also said to be considering honouring the Arctic convoy heroes for their contribution in the war effort.

Lilly added: “They saved so many lives, the Russians have always been very thankful to all those who served on the convoys, like my father.

“Throughout the period they managed to get through vital supplies during the worst conditions and it would be incredible if the Russians also honoured my father and the brave men he served with.”

Councillor Billy Ball has been an ardent campaigner for the Arctic convoy veterans to be recognised by the British government for their war time contribution.

Mrs Meldrum paid tribute to the University ward alderman and said he was a “great man”.

Billy told the Times: “I am over the moon, this is just the most incredible news to receive before Christmas. When I heard I was in work and I had to do everything to restrain myself, I would have been cart wheeling if I could, I am delighted.

“It is fantastic news that the Russians are also considering honouring the veterans.

“They want to award them the Ushakov medal which is similar to the George Medal.

“These men, who served in the harshest of conditions, never asked for anything and acted with incredible bravery and now they are finally getting the recognition they rightfully deserve.”