Russia honours its war-time friends

A handful of World War II veterans who braved ice, fierce cold and enemy fire on Arctic convoy duty received medals from Russia on Tuesday. ''We are very happy to have them and there's no resentment about it taking so long,'' said Gerry Raffe, 80, an airman who helped protect Allied convoys to Russia on the Arctic route. The medals presented by the Russian Embassy were for veterans of the convoys which carried arms, equipment and food to help the Soviet Union defeat Nazi Germany in World War II. ''It is a great privilege on behalf of our president to give you this commemorative medal for your heroic deeds,'' Russian Ambassador Grigori B. Karasin is quoted by The Associated Press as saying. The envoy, who was born after those dark days, shook hands with the 16 greying men and handed each a red box containing a gilt medal inscribed: ''The 50th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945.'' Each man also got a certificate and three red roses tied with a big red ribbon. Britain and the United States lost 87 merchant ships with 829 crewmen and 18 warships with 1,944 men on the Arctic convoys. There were more than 800 ships involved in 40 outward convoys which assembled off Iceland bound for Arkhangelsk and Murmansk in Russia. They were attacked by German surface warships, submarines and planes from bases in Norway. The cold is what the veterans all remember most.