Pensnett widow hits out after Arctic Convoys vets denied Russian bravery medal

Stourbridge News: Phyllis Coyle with husband Mick shortly before he died in 2010. Phyllis Coyle with husband Mick shortly before he died in 2010.

A PENSNETT widow and campaigner for veterans of the Arctic Convoys has slammed the news that former shipmates cannot collect bravery medals issued by the Russian government.

Phyllis Coyle’s late husband Mick was among the thousands of sailors who endured what Winston Churchill described as “the worst journey in the world” to support the Russian war effort during WWII.

Despite his courage and that of his shipmates - the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has told surviving old sailors and widows of those who have since died that they cannot accept a new bravery medal being offered by the Russian government.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We very much appreciate the Russian Government’s wish to recognise the brave and valuable service given by veterans of the Arctic Convoys.

“However, 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 and that that service should have taken place within the previous five years.

“Additionally, permission cannot be granted if they have received, or are expected to receive, a UK award for the same services.”

The spokesman said all British convoys veterans were eligible for the WW2 Atlantic Star, an Arctic Emblem lapel badge was also introduced in 2006 and Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced a new Arctic medal would be created for veterans of the Russian Run.

However Mrs Coyle branded the ban on accepting the Russian thank you “ridiculous”.

The 84-year-old great-grandmother said the news had upset Mick’s surviving shipmates who braved perilous seas, freezing temperatures and German U-boats to deliver vital supplies to Russia between 1941 and 1945.

She said Mick, president of Stourbridge Royal Naval Association who died of lung cancer in November 2010, had received four previous Russian medals honouring his Arctic service and she added: “Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia have given their men permission to have it.”

Dudley North MP Ian Austin, who has long called for recognition of the convoys veterans, said he planned to write to David Cameron calling for a re-think.

Mr Austin added: “This seems really petty to me. Men like Mick Coyle endured what Churchill called “the worst journey in the world”. It’s great that we’ve finally persuaded the government to recognise their bravery with a medal, but why shouldn’t these brave men be recognised by the Russians as well?”

Just a few months ago Mrs Coyle unveiled the country’s first memorial to Britain’s Arctic Convoys veterans at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire - which she and daughter Jennifer Picken funded themselves.

The pair used their savings to pay for the £18,000 memorial and had to raise a further few thousand pounds for its future upkeep.

Mrs Coyle said she is still around £3,250 short of the final figure needed to maintain the structure for the next 20 years. Anyone wishing to make a donation can send cheques payable to Arctic Convoy Memorial Upkeep Fund to Jennifer Pickin, 331 Gayfield Avenue, Brierley Hill, DY5 3JE.

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