Volume 51, Number 7, August 2013
A step too far? OUR front cover this month shows President Putin of Russia awarding the Medal of Ushakov to Arctic Convoy veterans in acknowledgment of the debt the Russian people owe these brave men. This presentation comes hard on the heels of various presentations of the new Arctic Star instituted earlier this year after a long campaign by veterans. Previously the Medal of Ushakov had been awarded to veterans from other countries, including the Commonwealth and the United States but permission had been refused by Her Majesty’s Government on the basis that the campaign for which it was being awarded had both British medallic recognition and had occurred well outside the five year cut off point. The veterans argued that there was no specific medallic recognition (before the Arctic Star was instituted) and that as other countries had accepted this and other awards (such as the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal) the Government was being mean-spirited. In June of this year the Government did a complete U-turn and decided to waive the rules so that Arctic Convoy veterans could in fact be awarded, and wear, the Russian decoration. Now, before I voice my opinion on this matter, I will go on record by saying that I am not, in any way, denigrating the bravery of the veterans, I am certain the hardships they faced were unlike anything I could ever imagine and so I certainly don’t begrudge them as many medals as possible—however, I am somewhat perplexed by this very obvious flouting of the rules and do worry where such a precedent might lead. A number of factors have to be taken into account when one is looking at this situation: firstly the Russians (or rather the old USSR) have already awarded a medal to Arctic Convoy veterans, this being the Soviet 40th Anniversary Medal awarded in 1985 (MYB203A). This medal was specifically given to Veterans as a “thank you” and permission was granted for wear by British servicemen after they successfully argued there was no specific British medal covering this campaign. Secondly there IS now a specific medal for this campaign—it was instituted, and the first ones presented, before this U-turn. These two facts mean that the recent decision by the Government makes little sense and inevitably leads to accusations that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the veterans and has everything to do with wider politics. Why the Government decided to grant permission for a “thank you” medal when one already exists and why have they only done so after a new medal was instituted for this very campaign makes no sense at all. From the point of view of someone interested in medals (I’m not just a collector, I do have a genuine interest in awards and the criteria behind them) I am more than a little concerned that now we have four medals (and a lapel badge) for a campaign where once we had just one. Where can such a policy take us? What happens if the Russians want to institute another medal, a 75th anniversary award for example, in a few years’ time? And what of other countries? What if the French decide to issue an “invasion medal” to commemorate 70 years since D-Day? What if the Singapore Government wants to issue a medal to commemorate the liberation in 1945? The Government will surely have to agree that these medals should be accepted and worn—if they don’t then aren’t they saying that the Arctic Veterans are “more worthy” than those who fought elsewhere? Not only do the Arctic Veterans get their original medal (the Atlantic Star) but they also get not one but two Russian awards and now their own campaign medal (no word yet about anyone handing back an Atlantic Star if they are over their complement of five). If I was a member of another veterans group I would already be preparing my case for more medallic recognition both from my own government and those governments of countries I had helped liberate from Nazi/Japanese oppression. I know this might sound as if I am saying that the Arctic Veterans are not deserving of any number of awards and if it does then I am sorry, I am certainly not trying to imply that, however, I am wondering why they have suddenly been seen as so much more worthy than others. Why this little group is having the rules thrown out of the window for them and I am wondering where it might lead. The rules were put in place for a reason—they were put there by people far better placed than medal collectors or 21st century governments to know why something was done in a certain way and now they are being torn up and discarded almost at a whim, either because it will be seen as a vote winner or because it is politically expedient to do so. I cannot help but think that such bending and breaking of the rules is the thin end of the wedge and whilst I hope the veterans who have recently received their Arctic Star and Ushakov medal will wear them with pride, I cannot help but think that the medals they take such joy in now receiving represent a change in policy that will have unwelcome consequences somewhere down the line. Not that the veterans will care—and nor should they.
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