The role of the RN in NI
Volume 48, Number 4, April 2010
Medal Misconceptions The recent news that bomb disposal expert Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmidt, who was killed in Afghanistan in October 2009, is expected to be awarded a posthumous George Cross spawned a raft of inaccurate reports in some of the UK’s most respected newspapers and on radio and television. That certain amateur websites, run by enthusiasts rather than professional journalists, made errors is one thing but to have such revered organs as the Sunday Telegraph (March 14, 2010) and Daily Telegraph (March 15, 2010) stating that the George Cross was “second only to the Victoria Cross” and still others claiming it to be “the civilian award for Gallantry” is something else. Yes, mistakes do happen (we should know) but there are some fundamental items in a news story that should be correct and all too often the media get it wrong. We’re all used to seeing flagrant disregard for the history or the order of wear of medals and decorations on television and film — examples such as the ribbons sported by Clive Dunn’s Lance Corporal Jones of “Dad’s Army” fame have gone down in medallic folklore so unlikely is the combination (he is seen wearing an 1882 egypt ribbon alongside an IGS 1895, Queen’s Sudan, QSA, KSA, IGS 1908, World War I Trio, and LS&GC, a ribbon that looks like a Royal Visit to either Ceylon or Ireland and a Khedive’s Sudan — admittedly they are in the right order but assuming he had to be at least 16 to fight in egypt he would have been 48 at the outbreak of World War I and 74 in 1940 when the comedy series was set — with a service history to rival any hitherto seen!) but one assumes that news reporters, who are dealing with facts every day, would do their best to get things right. Admittedly we haven’t always got things right here at MEDAL NEWS but unfortunately the level of medallic ignorance amongst the general media beats us hands down, these reports of the George Cross being just the latest in a long, long list, but should we be surprised? The ignorance in the media simply reflects the general ignorance of the public at large, many of whom still assume that a medal, any medal, is solely a bravery award and wouldn’t know an official medal from “bling” if you paid them. The very fact that the SAS “faker” Roger Day (who had his recent conviction quashed thanks to a legal technicality) was able to fool not only his wife but apparently a good number of others, including veterans, with his unlikely display of “gongs” highlights the lack of knowledge amongst those not directly involved in the hobby or the forces. This being the case it is small wonder that the unofficial medal trade has prospered in quite the way it has in recent years—the general public have no real knowledge of what should be worn, and how. Therefore it should come as no surprise that those who seek medallic recognition but who never got it officially resort to purchasing these “commemoratives” in order to show others where they served. Whether or not this actually matters per se is a moot point and the debate would rage long into the night were we to reignite it here. We’re on the fence ourselves, we were responsible, back in the early 1980s, for the design and production of the Bomber Command Medal (through a MEDAL NEWS competition) and don’t regret that decision, however the proliferation of so many “service” medals more recently has led us to feel that it has got a little out of hand—to say the least. But again the question is raised—does that matter? If your goal is actually to be seen by others as having taken part in a particular campaign or action and the Government hasn’t given you a medal for it then buying one must be seen as the next best thing—far better, one assumes, to buy a medal to which you would be entitled were it official than to sport an array of awards that you couldn’t hope to have earned in a month of Sundays à la Mr Day! The point is that, sadly, the general public, or indeed until it’s pointed out to them the media, won’t be any the wiser, and with so many medals having been proudly and legitimately won over the years, often at great personal cost to the recipient, I find that ignorance a great shame. There is not a great deal we can do of course, when such trusted institutions as the Sunday and Daily Telegraph can’t get it right there appears to be little hope that the man in the street is going to wise up any time soon! As already mentioned we at MEDAL NEWS don’t always get it right and our mistake at showing the unofficial Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (“news & Views”, february 2010) landed us, quite rightly and understandably, in trouble with more than a few readers. However, I still stand by my contention that it is a finer looking medal than the official one and apparently others seem to agree with me — see “Readers Letters” on page 41.
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