Medal News

Volume 56, Number 6, June 2018

Home Front in World War I

Volume 56, Number 6, June 2018

Why do they matter? THE recent call by Lord Guthrie and assorted others for there to be yet another look at the case for a Bomber Command Medal (see News & Views) shows that this matter really will not go away any time soon. One would imagine that the Bomber Command Veterans feel that if they shout loud enough their case will be heard, after all the Arctic Convoy and the Suez Veterans carried on their campaign until they got the outcome they wanted so why shouldn’t those in favour of a Bomber Command Medal do the same? There is no point in re-hashing my own feelings on this debate here, regular readers will know my thoughts on retrospective awards but then I am not a veteran, nor, to the best of my knowledge, was a member of my family denied “medallic recognition” at any point, so really my opinion on these matters is rather worthless. However, I can talk about it as somebody who knows medals and also knows something about the desire, even the need, for veterans to have the right medals, the medals to which they believe themselves entitled—after all it was MEDAL NEWS that produced the commemorative Bomber Command Medal some 30 years ago and I know just how many people were eager to obtain one of those—but something I never really asked myself then, and haven’t really asked since, is why? Why were so many veterans prepared to pay for a commemorative medal? Why do so many of them want a medal now? Just why are medals so important? This, actually, is a genuine question and one I am asking on behalf of all of us collectors who haven’t served and so don’t have our own medals. Just why are they so important? We know why, as collectors, they are important, they are a tangible record of a man’s service, they allow us to research who and where the recipient served, build a picture of their life but one assumes the original recipient knew who they were and why and where they had served, they didn’t need medals to tell them and yet there is no doubt receiving those medals was incredibly important. Gallantry awards I can understand—to wear a Victoria Cross or George Cross is to show everybody that you are the bravest of the brave, that you risked your own life to save another, to be awarded any gallantry medal is an honour, it shows your actions went “above and beyond” what was expected of you, the medal was both recognition and thanks and it makes perfect sense to want to wear it. The Orders of Chivalry too I understand, they show that you are a part of a “club”, a club that in many cases has its origins hundreds of years ago and again, like a gallantry award it is, in its own way a “thank you”; as, I suppose is a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, it is the services way of saying thanks. Is that, perhaps, how veterans see campaign medals? Is that how we collectors see them? Are they another way of saying “thank you for serving in this place or that”? I have posed this question to a number of people now, asked them what they thought medals (specifically campaign medals) were actually for and why they were, indeed are, so important and there doesn’t actually seem to be a consensus. So far the most common response is “to show where someone has served” but I’m not sure that makes sense, after all most civilians have no idea what the medals are that they see on veterans chests on November 11 or at weddings et al. They wouldn’t know a GSM Northern Ireland from a Gulf War Medal or a South Atlantic from an Arctic Star, all they see is metal and silk and only when the differences are pointed out do they take any notice. So is it to show fellow servicemen and women? Is that is the important thing? They, of course, are the ones most likely to know what someone is wearing so maybe it is for their benefit that the awards are made—again that doesn’t seem that plausible, after all most servicemen and women will be working alongside those who also served in the same place they did, they will all have the same medals and it is only when they mix with other units that they will be able to “show off” their gongs but in my limited experience there is no such showing off, no such one upmanship between units when it comes to medals. I admit I’m playing Devil’s advocate a little here, I know why I think medals are so important but I really would love to hear your views. Why are these things we collect so very precious to those to whom they were first awarded and why, after seven decades are some still campaigning to receive a medal to which they believe themselves entitled? I look forward to your thoughts.

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