Part of history
Volume 40, Number 3, March 2002
The recent controversy over the distribution of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and the criteria for its award has again brought to the fore the age old question regarding medals, honours and awards – the question of why are they given at all? After all a medal is simply a piece of metal, a badge if you like, to denote some act or mark some occasion, it has no monetary value, brings no immediate advantage to its wearer and aside from looking attractive serves very little practical purpose at all. Certainly there is a certain amount of kudos in bearing the post-nominals associated with British Orders or Gallantry awards but there are no such letters that come with the Jubilee medal and yet those who believed they should have received it fought long and hard to see justice done – the Suez Veterans are still fighting as we know – but why? After all every soldier knows what battles he fought in, every policeman knows how long his service has been and few if any of those who commit acts of bravery ever boast about them, indeed they are often shy about them to the point of reclusiveness, so why are medals still so important? Anyone who still believes they aren’t need only look at the burgeoning market for commemorative medals that “fill the gaps” – the National Service Medal being a prime example; we all know that the vast majority of men over 65 in this country today would have done National Service and yet thousands have bought the unofficial National Service Medal and wear it with pride to mark this fact– they are not doing it to boast about how brave they were, (although many undoubtedly were) after all they had no real choice in the matter but rather they are buying and wearing these medals because they want to show that they were part of something, that they were involved, that they, in whatever small way, have been part of history. Certainly there are those who do not want to remember their place in history, especially when the memory is still raw, and often we find medals, particularly those to mark conflict, go unclaimed or are disposed of quickly - but that is an attitude that does not always last and often those who sell or throw away their medals early on come to regret it later, a fact borne out by the number of enquiries we have had recently regarding South Atlantic Medals sold in the early eighties by soldiers now eager to get them back now the 20th anniversary is nearly upon us. Of course it isn’t only for the recipients that medals are important and now as time passes and, sadly, more of the old soldiers fade away we find their families are looking to claim medals never received or maybe never wanted. True in this relatively peaceful day and age with smaller armed forces and servicemen (and women of course) rarely wearing their uniforms outside military occasions or settings as once they did (look at any Victorian crowd scene and there will be literally dozens of uniforms on display) medals have become less an outward sign of achievement, long service gallantry or participation but that does not mean that they have any less significance – for whether worn proudly on the breast or hidden in a drawer at home it is the having the medal that is important, having the medal and the fact that in the having of it the recipient has achieved the recognition, whether officially or unofficially, that he or she was part of history and always will be.
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