Tuesday, January 15, 2013
A Norfolk naval veteran who was serving on a ship that was sunk while carrying Stalin’s gold bullion during the second world war has been refused permission to accept a bravery medal by the British government.
Lt Commander Roy Francis, 90, from Forncett St Mary, is unable to accept the Ushakov medal for bravery, offered by the Russian Government to British seamen who served on Arctic convoys between 1941 and 1945, because UK government officials say it would break the rules.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesman said that while he appreciated the Russian government’s wish to recognise the “brave and valuable service” given by veterans of the Arctic Convoys, the rules stated that in order for permission to be given for an award to be accepted, there had to have been specific service to the country concerned, and within the previous five years.
Additionally, permission could not be granted if a person had received, or were expected to receive, a UK award for the same services, in this case the second world war Atlantic Star, which already includes the arctic convoys.
Late last year, prime minister David Cameron also announced the creation of a specific Arctic campaign medal to recognise the severe hardships of this part of naval history.
Cdr Francis said: “I think they have got it wrong. The Russian government wants to give us a bravery medal, not a campaign medal – there is a big difference. Why can’t our government bend the rules when the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and American governments have all allowed their veterans to accept this great honour?”
But he added: “I’m pleased to see that this government has finally agreed to give us a British campaign medal. I’m told that checking eligibility for the award may take months though so I’m hoping I’ll still be around when all of the bureaucracy has been carried out – none of us are getting any younger.”
Cdr Francis served on HMS Edinburgh, which on its final voyage in 1942 was loaded with more than four tonnes of gold bullion as payment from Stalin to the UK and the USA for the weapons, tanks and aircraft needed to help fight off Nazi attacks.
It was sunk by a U-boat on May 2 1942 – the gold was not recovered until the 1980s.
Cdr Francis also served on HMS Manchester during the war.
Afterwards he built the Wells to Walsingham Light Railway, which he still owns and runs.