Medal Review

Posted on Mon, 4 February 2013 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Medal News
Medal Review Stars and bars

THE announcement at the end of 2012 that the UK Government was to implement the recommendations of the Holmes Report and issue, retrospectively, a new World War II star for Arctic Convoy Veterans (the Arctic Star) and a new Clasp for World War II Bomber Command Veterans (presumably to be worn on the Air Crew Europe Star, 1939-45 Star or France and Germany Star) has caused a great deal of controversy both among veterans groups and medal collectors alike. Now the first thing I would like to say regarding this is that no matter what the opinions, nobody I have spoken to wants to take anything away from those who have campaigned so tirelessly for medallic recognition. Their bravery during World War II cannot be in doubt and their obvious outrage at being “snubbed” (as they saw it) has not diminished over the decades—and they are to be applauded for their tenacity even if one does not agree with the outcome—and many don’t. The reasons that this latest decision has attracted so much controversy are many and all have merit so whilst the Arctic and Bomber Command veterans may be happy at last, many others are not.

The most obvious reason for the dissent is the worry that this latest decision will actually open up a flood of other claims for new awards, after all, while there is no doubt the Arctic and Bomber veterans faced great danger and hardships there are others who could claim to have faced equally dire circumstances and yet they haven’t been honoured with a separate medal. D-Day veterans could, surely, argue that they faced greater hardships than others who also qualified for the France and Germany Star, landing as they did on hostile beaches and fighting their way through enemy occupied territory—didn’t they face a far worse time than those who only came to mainland Europe towards the end of the war? And what of those captured by the Japanese and made to work themselves to death on the Burma Railway? They surely suffered far more than those who, say, served in the Royal Navy in the Bay of Bengal who are also eligible for the Burma Star. What of the members of the Special Operations Executive who served behind enemy lines and risked execution if caught? Don’t they deserve specific recognition? The simple fact is that there are many groups who could, rightly, claim that they were overlooked, that they suffered far more, were at far more risk, than others who received exactly the same medals as they did—are they now to have their cases looked at anew or was this decision based solely on the fact that the Arctic and Bomber Veterans were the ones who shouted loudest and had the right support from the right people? This may sound cynical and as if I begrudge the Veterans their latest triumph but I really don’t, I am simply questioning whether or not, after 70 years, any of us can really make a decision on which group is more “worthy” than another? There are surely cases to be made for every individual action or campaign— from Dunkirk to Arnhem and all points in between—and this was taken into account when the medals were first issued—to revisit the claims after seven decades is, I fear, going to lead to all sorts of problems. These problems were, of course, addressed when the original criteria for World War II medals was set out—nobody then thought that decades later the matter would be revisited.

The other issue we have with the new medal specifically is how does it fit into the existing system? As most of you will know there was a limit of five on the number of stars that could be awarded and worn—is this now to be rescinded too or are Veterans who qualify going to have to give up one of their existing medals? Surely a clasp to the Atlantic Star would have been more appropriate? And if we are talking practicalities, whose cypher will appear on the new Star? (I am assuming it will be of the same design as the others). The existing stars have the cypher of George VI, even if they are awarded for the first time today simply because it was during his reign that they were instituted and for a war that took place when he was on the throne, but the new star is instituted during the reign of his daughter so logically it should bear her cypher, however, she wasn’t the monarch during the conflict for which it is being awarded . . . a conundrum to be sure. There is of course, also the problem for us collectors—do we now possess an awful lot of broken groups? I have in my collection a group to a Marine. He has “big ship” service for World War II and the medals include the Atlantic Star, the Russian 40th anniversary medal and the Award Productions unofficial Convoy medal. He is now entitled to the new Star but should I add it? I, of course, can’t apply as I’m not his next of kin but undoubtedly some of these Arctic Stars will, in time, appear on the market—should I buy one and add to the group? And what of a group such as Bill Reid’s VC group as featured in the Interview with Melissa John last month? Should she try to get a Bomber Command clasp to add to the group? Is it incomplete without one? Undoubtedly veterans and their next of kin will gladly apply for these new additions to the World War II medallic family and no-one should deny them that—but are our groups now to be considered broken? These questions, and many more are ones that will undoubtedly test us in years to come and I await with interest the first of the new medals to come up for sale—what effect will they have on the price of groups I wonder? Of course if, as I fear, these new medals are just the first of many then the question of adding just one new one, or a clasp, may well become redundant—there is every chance we will soon see the introduction of a National Defence Medal, and a raft of others, meaning that we as collectors will find ourselves facing some real dilemmas. That said, medals are not introduced with collectors in mind but for the men and women who served and so I will put away my misgivings and doff my cap to those whose tenacity and passion have helped lead to this latest decision—now, as in World War II their dedication to their cause can only be applauded, even if it is a cause we don’t necessarily all agree with.

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