It is a cold, wet and blustery November morning by a village war memorial.
Straining to get themselves as proudly upright as possible four slightly stooped septuagenarian veterans in their blazers and berets are standing with bowed heads while their local bugler once again lets forth his perennial rendition of the Last Post. Along with all the others on similar parades around the world this day, these four particular veterans sport in their berets the cap badges of corps, arms and regiments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand — and the United Kingdom.
Nothing extraordinary about that. Since 11th November 1919 similar ceremonies have taken place annually in the
But back to the blustery, rain drenched steps of our village war memorial.
Bruce, the Australian veteran, is wearing his Australian Service Medal with its Korea clasp, as well as his country’s National Defence Medal. The Canadian, Tom, is sporting a Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal for service in Korea — and Syd, the Kiwi is proudly wearing his country’s General Service Medal — with its Korea 1954-1957 clasp. On the sound advice and recommendations of the governments of
However . .
Much to his ever-lasting embarrassment and the perennial puzzlement of his commonwealth comrades, our good old true blue British vet, Harold, has no medal whatsoever to display on his virgin breast, nothing at all to show for his service to Queen and country, even though he underwent the same levels of risk and rigour in
The foregoing allegorical tale may be seen by some as being far-fetched. However, it is not, because British veterans have indeed suffered the indignity described many times before.
At a time in our Country’s history when British military personnel are suffering under extreme active service conditions, enduring widespread overstretch and deprivation and being killed or wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, this might hardly seem to be an appropriate or auspicious time to submit a case for retrospective medal awards in recognition of campaigns, some of which were conducted over 50-years ago. Yet from the period immediately post
Successive British governments, supported by the economically inclined Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the HD Committee must have felt that ‘bare breasts looked best’. A fuller description and role of the HD Committee can be found elsewhere in this paper. However, in order to assist some readers in understanding how the functioning of this committee affects the subject matter of this chapter, it would do no harm to highlight the pertinent points.
Evolving from a pre-war organisation named The Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals in Time of War to simply The Committee of Honours, Decorations and Medals (aka HD Committee), its role is to advise The Sovereign on matters affecting honours and medals. The Committee is chaired by the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service. The other eight members of the Committee consist of (only) senior civil servants.
Qualifying periods for each award or medal are determined by consideration of the risks and rigours of the campaign. This is not standardised. In some circumstances, the qualifying period agreed has been as short as one day's service, whereas other medals or clasps require 90 days' continuous service. At least one campaign medal (the General Service Medal 1918-1962 with clasp “
Since the end of World War II, the:
“HD Committee has maintained a policy that it will not consider the belated institution of awards and medals for service given many years earlier” [Quote from Veterans UK website].
The reason given for this policy is that the present HD Committee cannot put itself in the place of the Committee which made the original decision and which would have been able to take account of the views of the Government and of other interested parties at the time of the decision.
“The HD Committee has made it clear on a number of occasions, (most recently in February 2002), in response to requests for the institution of belated awards that it will not reconsider this policy. They will not reconsider cases that took place more than five years ago” (emphasis added) [Quote from Veterans UK website].
The current argument is that if an exception were to be made for one case, then it would be almost impossible to refuse to re-consider every other claim for retrospective institution of an award or medal. Consequently, the HD Committee does not feel obligated to acknowledge so-called precedents dating back to the 19th Century, when Queen
However, notwithstanding the above, one-time Royal Sussex Regiment Commanding Officer, the late Colonel P.S. “Pip” Newton, M.B.E., Secretary of the Ogilby Trust, spent 25 years after retirement from the army in 1972, fighting a long and hard battle for a retrospective (pre-1956) “Canal Zone” clasp to be awarded. Ultimately he achieved his aim, but at great cost to his health. The clasp was finally awarded at the time of his death, aged 82. It is affectionately referred to by those who now wear it, as ‘“Pip’s’ Gong”.
Why, therefore, did the HD Committee agree in retrospect to the award of a “
“Pip” Newton was also a determined campaigner for the award of a Special Service Medal for prescribed peacekeeping or non-warlike operations where recognition had not previously been given ― an aim that remains to be achieved. “Pip” served as a company commander in
Such is the mounting degree of cumulative angst this parsimonious mindset has created in certain quarters, that something which hitherto would have been unimaginable among the disciplined and obeisant ‘Old Order’, for a while now has been shaping up to rebel.
Still steadfastly resisted by the government departments to which their representations are politely being submitted (and cavalierly rejected) for a long time now there has been a substantial and ever growing number of British ex-service personnel — Veterans — consistently making the strongest, most well supported and persistent noises about the retrospective award of several overlooked and never awarded medals, one of which is highlighted in this Chapter
Officials at the MoD have been made very well aware that several Commonwealth countries have in recent years introduced new medals for past service performed in some cases more than fifty years previously, for which they requested and received Her Majesty the Queen’s permission to wear. Such medals include an (Australian) National Defence Medal and medals for service in
The answer lies with the MoD who argues, forcefully, that since several Commonwealth countries ― such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand ― consciously withdrew some years ago from the fine sounding Risk and Rigour based Imperial Honours System to one of ‘simply’ recognising periods of military service, it is their business. There is no British Government inclination to follow suit and any suggestion that perhaps there is need for change is resisted with dogged determination. The MoD has also stated that as the HD Committee is the final arbiter, veterans should realise that medals are not the gift of the Ministry of Defence. However, the HD Committee advises that policy responsibility for the possible introduction of military medals, including a National Defence Medal, rests with the MoD. It is little wonder that veterans are bewildered by all this, especially when they learn that the HD Committee seldom meets and business is normally conducted by correspondence. In fact the Committee has met on very few occasions since the end of the Second World War.
A number of British veterans are pursuing the institution of an award similar to medals retrospectively issued by
“If the Military Commanders of the day, who had access to all the facts, had wanted a medal to cover the full period during which British troops were deployed in Korea, they had every opportunity to pursue this and could easily have submitted a case had they thought that the continuing risks and rigours for the Armed Forces personnel posted to Korea justified a medal. There is no evidence to prove that such a case was ever drafted or submitted for consideration by the Chain of Command or the HD Committee” [Quote from letter to a veteran from CDS dated 3rd July 2008].
Had the Commanders of the day submitted a case for a medal or clasp to the Chain of Command for consideration and thence to the HD Committee, one can only speculate whether it would have succeeded? After all, unless those concerned could look into the future, it would not have been possible for them to have predicted what was in store for British troops during the five years of peacekeeping/containment operations in
The last British regiment to serve in Korea was 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment, which with a magnificent and well remembered ceremonial farewell parade held in conjunction with Her Majesty The Queen’s official birthday that year, to great acclaim from Americans who flew in from far and wide to attend, finally left that (then) arduous and sorry land on 26th July 1957.
Risk and Rigour
Consider the following: Degree of Risk and Rigour experienced by medal-less British and other UN military personnel serving in
From the signing of the 1953 Armistice agreement until 1999, there have been over 40,000 violations of the Agreement. These violations include serious acts of war involving the loss of
Total British casualties in the period following the Armistice agreement until the 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment departed in 1957, admittedly amounted to a mere fifty men from all causes. However, we had proportionately fewer men on the ground compared to
“I thought the war was over. The Royal
As the 1,000 strong English “Point Battalion”, with defensive positions just south of the Imjin River, those who dug and manned the 1st Battalion Royal Sussex trenches and dug-outs were under no delusion whatsoever regarding their inevitable fate in the event of an (always expected) attack by communist forces. With only about 36-hours of ammunition with which to hold back the enemy, they were expected to be overrun. The reason for this was that their role was to create a delay in which to allow their US 24th Infantry Division allies’ 21st Infantry Regiment (the renowned and very bemedalled Gimlets) further south, time to prepare to meet the inevitable breakthrough and onslaught. Thankfully, this scenario did not occur, but the risk that it might have was very real indeed.
And then there was the climate to contend with. Spring thaw was followed by monsoon rains which played havoc with the fabric of laboriously dug positions. With the coming of summer the heat became intense. Dust coated weapons, vehicles, food and clothing. British and other United Nations troops toiling up the mountainsides carrying heavy loads envied the much greater endurance and carrying power of the little Korean porters. Infection and disease prospered in this climate in the damp warmth of the bunkers and insects proved marginally more tolerable than the stink of the repellent issued to suppress them. Then came the winter and as men plodded between positions muffled by innumerable layers of clothing, they gazed in awed disbelief as the temperature dropped to sub-zero depths. Starting a vehicle engine was a major undertaking and any carelessness in exposing even a small amount of flesh to the naked air could result in frostbite.
So the question is: Should a medal be retrospectively awarded for service in
1st Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers; 1st Bn King’s Own Royal Regt; 1st Bn North Staffordshire Regiment; 1st Bn Essex Regt; 1st Bn Royal Warwickshire Regt; 1st Bn Northamptonshire Regt; 1st Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers; 1st Bn Queens Own Cameron Highlanders; 1st Bn Dorset Regt — and 1st Bn Royal Sussex Regt.
Elements of those supporting units that also served in the same period included the Royal Tank Regiment; Royal Artillery; Royal Signals; Royal Army Service Corps; Royal Army Ordnance Corps; Royal Engineers — and Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers.
The MoD thinks not.
If the HD Committee, or others responsible, could be so careless as to overlook the kind of evidence that “Pip” Newton and his colleagues presented in their hard fought campaign for a “Canal Zone” clasp, is it not conceivable that evidence of the risks and rigours outlined above faced by British troops in post-Armistice Korea, might also have been overlooked or perhaps not thoughtfully considered?
British veterans believe—like their Commonwealth allies who have been retrospectively awarded medals for service in post-Armistice Korea—that they too qualify for something a little more emotionally and morally tangible than just a lapel pin.
In response to various letters written by a veteran in December 2004 and early 2005 to the Right Honourable Geoffrey Hoon, MP, then Secretary of State for Defence, concerning the retrospective institution of a medal for post-Armistice service in Korea, he was informed by Mr. R.T. Coney, a member of MoD secretariat, replying on Mr. Hoon’s behalf on 17th February 2005, that:
“While conditions for those serving in Korea after 27 July 1954 were still most unpleasant and as you quite rightly mentioned in you letters, were still on a war footing, the United Nations and North Korean forces were not physically at war. Actual hostilities had ceased. The situation is still very similar today. There is still a truce, but the conflict has not been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties” [emphases added]
Mr. Coney concludes by saying:
“…We are aware that in recent years the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Governments have agreed to allow veterans to both receive and wear certain campaign medals awarded by other foreign governments for service that had not previously been recognised, and have also instituted campaign medals of their own [such as for service in post-Armistice Korea] for which no direct equivalents have been issued by the British Government. However, these countries withdrew from the Imperial Honours System some years ago. Any approval which the Queen may have given, as Queen of Canada, Australia and New Zealand for Commonwealth citizens to wear particular medals, would have been given on the advice of the appropriate Commonwealth Ministers. These matters are now the sole responsibility of the countries concerned and have no bearing on any decisions that the British Government might make under similar conditions.”
“…There are no plans to institute any new British medals for past military service, or to extend the qualifying criteria for any existing medals which recognise service performed and completed more than five years previously…”
“…I am sorry to have to send you what I realise will be a disappointing reply.”
In a letter dated 3rd July 2008 to the same veteran the CDS said that British campaign medals:
“…are awarded when the risks and rigours of the operations under consideration are sufficiently extreme, compared to the normal expectations of Service life [emphasis added], to justify the institution of a medal”.
To paraphrase the words of Mr. Coney: (1) conditions were most unpleasant—an understatement if ever there was one (2) the war had not ended, but that does not matter (3) the conflict has not been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, but that too is of no relevance (4) Other Commonwealth countries have, admittedly, seen fit to honour their Armed Services with a medal, but Britain has no intention of following their lead.
Contrast Mr Coney’s analysis of conditions in post armistice
“There is no doubt, in the view of the Working Party, that personnel of the Australian navy, army and air force units deployed in Korea for the period 27 July 1953 to 19 April 1956 [the date when the last Australian combat troops were withdrawn] experienced climate extremes of heat and cold, lived and worked under harsh conditions, were justifiably conditioned physically and mentally to meet a perceived threat, and exercised standard operating procedures to maintain a high level of readiness for combat to meet an enemy offensive. They also experienced trauma of casualties, including deaths amongst members that resulted from operations at the extremes of service outside the warlike service envelope. In the judgment of the Working Party and by any criterion, this service was beyond the requirements of peacetime, training and garrison duties and included times when “enemy potential for offensive action in Korea has never been higher” [ 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Weekly Summary – August 1953]
The last British combat forces were not withdrawn until 26th July 1957 and experienced no less risk and rigour than their Australian comrades; and one can only speculate how Mr. Coney would have worded his letter had he considered these facts or even been aware of the tens of thousands of serious breaches to the 1953 Armistice Agreement, not to mention the thousands of battle-related casualties that occurred after the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. Certainly, the next-of-kin of those killed in action and the soldiers and airmen wounded in action, would very likely strongly disagree with Mr. Coney’s analysis of the situation in post-Armistice
In November 2008, the Hon Dr Mike Kelly AM, (Australian) Parliamentary Secretary for Defence announced the implementation of the 2005 report referred to above and the eligibility criterion for the Australian General Service Medal – Korea (AGSM) and the Returned from Active Service Badge (RASB). In both cases, the eligibility criterion for former Defence Force personnel who served in
“The conditions under which these people served were at least as arduous and dangerous as the many subsequent operations which have attracted similar recognition, and 18 members lost their lives while engaged in this service.
These proud servicemen deserve the gratitude of our nation for their contribution to world peace in one of the more dangerous international situations since World War II, which had the potential to escalate into a nuclear confrontation. I salute them and am delighted that the Rudd Labour Government has been able to help them achieve resolution to their cause, which should have happened long before now.”
The determined and dedicated groups of HM Forces’ veterans, who have worked so diligently on behalf of all veterans for the retrospective award of these medals and others referred to in this document, deserve our thanks, respect, congratulations, and encouragement.
Perhaps the fact that the Government’s standard response to letters that “few people/ veterans have written to the Ministry of Defence about the lack of recognition for the service they provided to the country” in no way indicates a lack of interest in receiving such an award, but rather may be due to the fact that many of them, like myself, are into their twilight years.
Looking on the bright side of this tangled web, the present (2008) Shadow Defence Secretary,
Information about certain military medals awarded by the Governments of
· Australian Service Medal 1945 – 1975 –
· Australian General Service Medal –
· Australian Defence Medal;
· Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal
· United Nations
* Subject to the formality of Royal Assent.
Country Service Medal Campaign Medal for post Armistice Operations in South Korea Lapel Badge Yes–The Australian Defence Medal Yes–The Australian Service Medal 1945–1975 with Yes+ Returned from Active Service Badge No Yes–Canadian Forces Peacekeeping Service Medal Yes Yes– The Operational Service Medal Yes–The Yes United Kingdom No No Yes Yes–National Defence Service Medal Yes–The Medal Yes
Campaign Medal for post Armistice Operations in South Korea
Yes–The Australian Defence Medal
Yes–The Australian Service Medal 1945–1975 with
Yes+ Returned from Active Service Badge
Peacekeeping Service Medal
Operational Service Medal
* The United Nations Korean Medal was awarded for qualifying service from 27 July 1950 until 27 July 1954, when it ceased to be issued. An American organisation named Korea Defense Veterans of America (KDVA) http://kdvamerica.org has been lobbying for some time, without success, to persuade the United Nations to reinstitute the award of this medal. KDVA, a registered non-profit organization incorporated in The State of New Jersey,
The decision by United Nations hierarchy to deny a medal to those who served in post–1954 Korea seems to have been based principally on the command structure of UN ground forces there, without much consideration to the ever present risk of the resumption of hostilities by an unstable Communist regime in the North, and the difficult terrain and climate encountered by troops operating in a land that had not long before been devastated by war. Based on legal advice taken in February 2003 the United Nations state that the UN medal is awarded only to military personnel serving under the operational or tactical control of the United Nations. Personnel serving in a Security Council authorised mission that is not under the control and command of the United Nations are therefore not eligible for any United Nations Medal. The advice given was that the UNC in
However, in what would appear to run counter to that position, in order to provide for the defence aspirations in Korea, the Security Council passed a resolution on July 7, 1950 stating that military and other assistance contributed by UN Member States would be placed under a unified operational command headed by the United States. The resolution is in effect to this day. The Commander-in-Chief, UN Command, had operational control of the multinational military forces supporting the
As mentioned previously in this Chapter, The Royal Sussex Regiment was the last British regiment (1956-57) assigned to peacekeeping/containment duties in
Neither The Royal Sussex Regiment nor any other troops in
“You are defending far more than your dear ones, your home and your country. You are defending civilization”.
In June 2008, Colonel Rustam Patnaik of United Nations Chief Force Generation Service responding to a letter written by Richard Farrar, a post-armistice Korea veteran, seeking the reinstitution of the United Nations Korean Medal or the award of a similar medal for post 1954 Korea service, stated that Britain’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations was responsible for reviewing requests regarding medals and that he should have his directed letter(s) to the Mission. Upon receiving this advice, Mr. Farrar then wrote to Sir John Sawers,
“I have consulted with the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA), the UK agency who deal with medal requests on behalf of the MoD, and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) here in New York who have the final say on UN medal policy. SPVA are adamant that they have no sway over the eligibility rules for UN medals and DPKO are equally clear that since you and your colleagues served post 27 July 1954 you will not be entitled to the United Nations Korean War Medal. [emphasis added] I regret that they are not minded to review this decision…“This is not the news that you were hoping for, but I regret that there is nothing further I can do”.
When Mr. Farrar pointed out to Colonel Bibbey that he and my colleagues had not requested a United Nations Korean War Medal, but merely that the United Nations Korean Medal be extended and reinstituted for operations post 27 July 27 1954, Colonel Bibbey replied:
“… As far as they (United Nations) are concerned, it does not alter their position. Concerning SPVA, you will have to deal with them directly. It seems to me that they are the key players here - the examples you give are of national rather than UN medals so I would have thought that something along the lines of an additional bar to the GSM would be appropriate, making this primarily a matter of UK policy”. [Emphases added]
The end result of all this is that United Nations are not interested in reviewing their own position concerning the reinstitution of their own Korea medal, preferring that this be done by Britain’s Permanent Mission to United Nations, who in turn referred Mr. Farrar’s request to the MoD (Mr. R.T. Coney, perhaps?) who ducked the issue by stating that ‘Britain has no sway over the eligibility rules for UN Medal policy’. Colonel Bibbey was absolutely correct in the last sentence of his email in which he wrote:
“… I sympathise with your position; dealing with bureaucracies (
So the post-armistice Korean veterans' battle for recognition continues.
 After consultation with the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, Major General Patrick C. Cammaert, Military Advisor, Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
 Blue berets and helmets were worn for the first time during peacekeeping operations following the 1956
 In addition to
 General L.L. Lemnitzer, whose military title whilst in