Hot shots in Gibraltar
Volume 50, Number 11, November 2012
Decision time RECENT press stories have once again brought the issue of both the Arctic Convoys and foreign medals given to British Servicemen to the fore. The latest fuel added to these long burning fires has come from the Russians who, earlier this year, announced their desire to award surviving veterans of the Arctic Convoys the Ushakov Medal, a military award for courage originally instituted in 1944 and retained by the current Government of the Russian Federation. The medal has, apparently, already been accepted by the governments of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand but the Foreign and Commonwealth office in the UK has decided that our Veterans will not be able to accept the award. Now I must admit to being somewhat confused by this as the press release sent to us by the Conservative Friends of Russia, who are spearheading a campaign to have this ruling overturned, and the website of the Russian Embassy in the UK both refer to the UK Government not allowing Veterans to accept the medal, now call me pedantic but surely the remaining veterans could be presented with the decorations as gifts could they not? What is to stop the Russians simply handing them over as a mark of gratitude? The Government surely cannot get involved with that aspect of things—can they? Is a Government Official really going to tell a 90-yearold veteran that he isn’t allowed to physically own such a gift? I doubt it. Wearing such an award is, of course, another matter, there are, necessarily, strict rules regarding the wearing of foreign awards, as well as the “unofficial” ones that abound and in this matter the Government is simply adhering to those rules, in particular those in regard to a foreign award not being given where a British one already exists and the “five year rule” which states that an award must be made within five years of an action taking place. Now on the surface these rules make sense, retrospective awards, British or foreign, could cause all sorts of problems and as I have touched upon before, could lead to vast discrepancies in medal groups awarded for identical service; unfortunately though there are numerous cases where these rules have been completely disregarded and this is only adding to the Arctic Veterans’ consternation. Personally I am not a fan of retrospective awards, whether brand new medals or existing medals given out long after the event—my reasoning behind this is simple, there have to be rules laid down, if there aren’t then chaos ensues and nobody really knows who is entitled to what—on top of that who am I, or you, or anyone who wasn’t there to say which group should be awarded a “special” medal and which shouldn’t? If we award a medal to those in the Arctic Convoys then those in Bomber Command surely have to have one too, and if them then why not the Normandy Veterans? And if you say yes to them where do you draw the line? Do you have one medal for those who went into the beaches on June 6 and another for those who went in a month later? And if that happens what about those who went in in the first wave when casualties were 80 per cent compared to those who went in later when casualties were relatively low? To put it bluntly we simply cannot start picking apart the battles and missions of World War II and start saying that one group of individuals was braver/faced more hardships than another. I fully sympathise with those campaigning for such new awards but I fear should they actually be successful then we will find every veterans group appealing to have their case hear and should each get their own “special” medal then we will be back to square one with the original campaigners claiming they should be given even more recognition and so on ad infinitum. With foreign awards the situation is slightly different, but again there has to be a line drawn somewhere and in this particular case it must be remembered that a Russian award has already been given to Arctic veterans—the 40th Anniversary medal (MYB 203A) is a Soviet award that British veterans can wear alongside their British Medals. That said I am actually in favour of the Ushakov Medal being given to, and worn by, our veterans. Why? Quite simply because there is precedence for this sort of thing—the French gave the Legion d’honneur to surviving World War I veterans back in 1998 and more recently the Malaysian Government introduced the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal for veterans of the Malay Emergency and that now can be worn by the Britons who served. The fact is that awards such as the Ushakov Medal have been made to, and worn by, British veterans for years—despite the rules being in place to stop them, the same rules that are being bandied about now. The rules, it seems, get bent this way at that depending on the mood of the time, and it is no wonder that the Arctic Convoy Veterans, many of whom have already been told they will receiving the award, are furious. As I’ve said I’m not a fan of retrospective awards, nor a fan of foreign awards being dished out for the same thing time after time, however, I am less of a fan of bureaucrats who make rules then adhere to them only half the time. It is about time the powers that be made a decision once and for all—either say absolutely NO to new retrospective medals, be they British or foreign, or allow them all. The time has come to stop messing about and prevaricating. Either allow the veterans their medals or adhere to the rules properly, and forever, and tell them they have no chance of being successful in their campaign. All this pussy footing around is not doing anybody any good.
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