Honouring the few
Volume 38, Number 4, April 2000
THIS month we hear of the issue of Australian stamps depicting the last Anzacs and the medal they were awarded in 1998, the 80th anniversary Armistice Remembrance Medal. This award was made along similar lines to the French Legion d'Honneur awarded in 1998 to surviving British and Empire veterans who fought in France during WWI and the Gallipoli Star awarded in 1990 to the remaining 200 survivors of the landings. The question is now being asked in some quarters whether it isn't time for Britain to make a similar gesture to honour those few who remain, before, sadly, it is too late. Such awards, made to surviving veterans long after the campaigns in which they fought are over are not unknown in this country, the Military General Service Medal, Naval General Service and Army of India medals were all awarded retrospectively many years after the event for which they were won and supporters of an action similar to those of the French and Australian Governments often cite them, and the unofficial commemorative medals that abound today, in their arguments; but there is a difference. Those Victorian medals were awarded because the participants in the actions had not received any recognition, they had fought in the bloody battles of the Napoleonic Campaigns or helped to carve out the new Empire in the subcontinent and yet had nothing to show for their endeavours, similarly the unofficial commemorative medals, whether one agrees with them or not, were introduced to fill a gap, with the men of Bomber Command, the Normandy Campaign, etc., feeling that they deserved special recognition not perhaps given with other World War II stars. The French award of the Legion d'Honneur and the Australian Armistice Remembrance Medal have both been given to veterans who had already had their duty and heroism recognised with the World War I medals at the time; this being the case; coupled with the fact that next of kin are not involved and the medals are only being awarded to living recipients, aren't these new honours simply to congratulate the men for living to a ripe old age? A contentious issue undoubtedly, with strong arguments put forward on both sides. Who after all who would deny these men, who suffered hardship we cannot begin to contemplate, all the honours possible, and who would deny a new generation the chance to thank these veterans, as our fathers and forefathers have done, for preserving freedom and the way of life we now enjoy? Put that way few would begrudge them another medal. There again where does such action end? Are we to see such decorations being doled out to World War II veterans on the 80th anniversary of VE Day? Or in 2062, 80 years after the Falklands Conflict? If this is to be the case why make it just the 80th anniversary, why not other milestones? And why such awards only to living recipients? After all isn't it purely chance that they are still alive today, a matter of luck more than anything else? Why not issue such medals to next of kin of those no longer with us to collect them in person? There is, of course, no easy end to this debate and with emotions inevitably running high on both sides it is an argument that is destined to run and run.
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