Medal News

Volume 51, Number 10, November 2013


Volume 51, Number 10, November 2013

Wearing with pride? A RECENT “thread” on the on-line British Medal Forum posed a question regarding the wear of medals on Remembrance Day and any church parades on Remembrance Sunday. The question wasn’t in regard to the questioner’s own medals but rather had to do with those of a deceased relative. He was asking whether there were any rules governing the wear of a relative’s medals on such an occasion and, needless to say, there were many others happy to give their advice! The practice of wearing a deceased relative’s medals came about after World War I when widows of men killed during the conflict were seen sporting their late husband’s awards at the dedications of war memorials and on Armistice Day celebrations in the 1920s. The practice has continued into the 21st century and indeed has become even more prevalent. It is not unusual these days to see both those parading, and in the crowds watching, wearing medals on both left and right breast, or indeed see primary school children proudly displaying their grandfather’s or great grandfather’s medals on their young chests. It seems there are no hard and fast rules as to whether this practice is “right” or not. However, it is an emotive issue and one I feel needs addressing. The first thing to note is that the wearing of medals to misrepresent or deceive is illegal, you cannot wear medals as if they were your own if they aren’t. “Walter Mitty” style characters are universally frowned on, so were you to turn up at a parade or service wearing medals on the left breast as if you had been awarded them when you hadn’t, you are likely to be asked to leave and possibly face criminal charges. However, if you are wearing such things on the right, in homage to a relative who had been awarded them, then things are not so clear cut. If you are a civilian and not actually taking part in a parade then you are not subject to any restrictions (bar the Walter Mitty clause!) and so may wear what you want. Whether all those attending the service agree with your decision or not is a matter of personal choice—you are perfectly entitled to wear what you will (please note this is NOT the case in Canada where it is actually a criminal offence to wear medals to which you are not entitled). If you are “On Parade” then things become more tricky. Those in uniform (and even currently serving but not in uniform) will of course have to obey the very strict rules laid out by their service—the wearing of medals is closely regulated and it is unlikely that you will find any serving member of the armed forces wearing his grandfather’s trio on the right and his own medals on the left—and certainly not if he is in uniform. However, those who have left the services may wish to honour the memory of a deceased relative, perhaps the person who inspired them to join up in the first place, and in this instance I believe the wearing of them is at the discretion of the officer in charge of the Parade—if he or she is happy for such a medallic display to be seen then so be it. However, veterans parading shouldn’t be too upset if they are quietly asked to remove the “extra” set and just parade with their own medals. Of course this doesn’t often happen in practice. No serving officer wants to be seen to upset veterans, which is why so many “unofficial” medals appear quite erroneously mounted with official groups. They shouldn’t be (if they are worn at all it should be below the official medals but even that isn’t strictly correct). But which officer is going to walk up to a Normandy or Arctic Convoy veteran and tell him he “can’t wear those on parade”? The Daily Mail would have a field day! This, of course, does not actually address whether it is “right” to do such things or not and in this matter I can offer little advice. Such a practice is very much up to the individual, if they wish to honour a relative then who am I to say they can’t? Indeed, in New Zealand and Australia the practice is actively encouraged (even for those in uniform on ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day). Others may, and do, disagree and should you decide to wear a World War I trio or World War II medals on November 11 there are some who will take you to task. The only advice I can really give you is this: if you are determined to wear medals on Remembrance Day then bear in mind less is more. Don’t deck yourself out with three or four rows in memory of Great-Granddad, Granddad, Great Uncle Bill and Great Uncle Eric. Just because you aren’t wearing their medals doesn’t mean they aren’t remembered. You see, that’s the thing about remembering someone—it can be done publicly or privately. It doesn’t matter whether you wear granddad’s medals or not. You remember what he sacrificed in order to allow you to live a happy and free life and you will be thankful for it whether his stars adorn your chest or not—maybe the fact you are able to be at a Remembrance Sunday service at all is what really counts.

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