Medal News

Volume 53, Number 3, March 2015

Victory on the Peninsular

Volume 53, Number 3, March 2015

Medals won’t be worn The recent announcement that Prime Minister David Cameron was keen to institute a medal for those who have helped in West Africa combatting the spread of Ebola has met with mixed reactions. On the one hand there is no doubt that those who volunteered to put their own lives at risk to help in the fight against Ebola are very brave. The disease has killed nearly 10,000 people in the latest outbreak and a number of cases of foreign aid workers being infected have been reported. On the other hand I have to ask “Why a medal?” Of course aid and humanitarian medals have a long and illustrious history, from the Red Cross decorations through to the Messina Earthquake medal, the Hong Kong Plague medal and on to the UN awards given for relief work and similar. A medal awarded to those who put the needs of others before their own safety is not a new concept by any means but I do question whether it’s as valid in today’s society as it was in years gone by. For the military personnel a “gong” will be well received—the men and women of our armed forces are used to medals, they are around medals on a regular basis and will understand the rationale behind them. They will also, most importantly, be able to actually wear them on numerous occasions. But what of the others? What of the doctors? The nurses? The aid workers? The volunteers? Are they really going to appreciate a bit of metal on a silk ribbon? I don’t know when you last went to a hospital but the days of good old fashioned nurses’ uniforms are long gone—it’s all “scrubs” and “crocs” these days. Hardly suitable dress for a medal and undoubtedly health and safety types would frown upon the wearing of such an item in a hospital environment anyway. In the past when nurses wore more formal uniforms, indeed had formal occasions to attend where a smart uniform was required, a medal was something to be worn with pride, it added something to the overall look of the wearer. But today? That simply isn’t the case. Uniforms, and the formal occasions on which they are worn, just don’t exist to the same degree as they once did and so for many of the intended recipients the chance to wear this new medal simply won’t be there. I certainly don’t want to get political in this Comment but I can’t help but think the money spent on the institution, production and distribution of this award, when all many of them will do is gather dust in a drawer somewhere, might be better spent elsewhere, especially in this time of austerity. One could argue the same of other awards given to civilians (and those whose uniforms/dress no longer gives them the opportunity to wear them): the MBE, OBE and similar, but they, at least, have a long history which the recipient can feel part of. And, of course, they come with post-nominals, meaning that the recipient’s actions can be acknowledged even when the medal isn’t seen. This new proposed medal will not, as far as I am aware, carry any such designation and will simply be visible recognition of service. That’s fine when that service can actually be recognised and when the award can be seen, but how many of them, outside the military, will actually ever be worn? I am, perhaps, being a little harsh and I’m sure that many of you will point to the plethora of life-saving medals awarded to non-uniformed recipients that never saw the light of day after the presentation. But if you consider many of those awards you will realise that the vast majority were instituted at a time when formal wear was much more common and thus there was at least the opportunity to be seen sporting the medal, even if the recipient didn’t actually ever do so. In today’s world of the casual look, of scrubs at work and jeans and t-shirts outside it, a medal seems somewhat anachronistic—a relic of a past age that has only a limited appeal in the 21st century. I’m not, of course, advocating the scrapping of medals as recognition or reward; certainly for the military and other organisations where a formal uniform is still used, they very much have their place. But for civilians or those whose uniform is a far cry from formal (and where they couldn’t wear it at work anyway), I find myself questioning whether a “medal” is the right thing to give. I’m probably terribly wrong and those intended recipients may well be over the moon with the thought of the new “Ebola Humanitarian Medal”. I wonder. . . . Either way I felt it worth “commenting” on and await your thoughts with interest . . .

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