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5th March 2005Honours - medals and such
By Paul Cubbin
Freshly back from my Canadian adventure (I'm not a natural skier btw) I have wasted no time in sharing a discussion I had with an old Army buddy of mine in Fernie, BC.

Having looked at the New Year's Honours List (with emphasis on military personnel) we talked long about the nature of awards given to 'Gulf War' (the recent one) servicemen/women. It was with some chagrin that we both identified the majority of recipients had either not got any closer to the theatre than Kuwait city or had turned up after all the lead had stopped flying, whizzed round in a 'Warrior' and then taken the first flight out.

With so much emphasis on appearances rather than content these days it is scarcely surprising that the wrong people are singled out for praise (especially with so many 'combat journalists' carefully directed away from hotspots) and the public are clueless as to the realities of war. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing - a load of b*llsh*t is even worse, especially when you don't know that it is!

What seems apparent is that the RD recipients of honours seemed (eventually) to be the right men (Bourne aside). Perhaps this was due to the fact that the highest rank present was a lowly Lieutenant - or was it that the story was available universally - to high and low - in its entirety? Public pressure certainly accounted for some of the medals given. Was this action the first 'true' use of honours in the British Army? And do the lessons learned need to be re-learned?
5th March 2005Martin Everett
Dear Paul,
All honours go through an approval system with a board. This was true in Victorian times with the Commander in Chief and then the Queen having the final say. It is not really worth trying to equate deeds of yesterday with todays as the criteria for approval is very different. There are very many options available today - lower degrees of award - that take into account the factor yuo list above. Remember that Tpr Finney received a GC rather than VC because his actions were not under enemy (but friendly fire). A very fine dividing line.

You talk about 'public pressure' - probably no more that happened in earlier Victorian campaigns. The DCM was introduced in 1854 and the VC in 1856 (although the first VC was for an action in 1854). The key factor in Victorian times was not the kudos of receiving these awards but it was really the pension that went with them. The pension was worth an extra 30% increase in pay for the private soldier.

Turning to the pressure for additional awards for RD after those for Chard, Bromhead and 6 of the 24th - where is document states that public pressure resulted in the awards to Dalton, Schiess and Reynolds? Or is this a myth? Can someone answer?

6th March 2005Paul Cubbin
Problem is Martin, the board members are unlikely to be L/Cpl's are they. It seems that then, as now, the decision is so easily influenced by who you know, not what you've done. Obviously, a medal is more likely to be won by an O/R who has a sympathetic CO, but so many high ranking officers appear to be surrounded by 'toadies' even now that injustices are infortunately still likely. Where were the medals for the REME mechanics who calmly fixed a Challenger II's track link in the middle of a fierce armoured firefight? Those who witnessed it said it was the bravest thing they'd ever seen - who else ever heard of it?
6th March 2005Martin Everett

I think you are citicising the mechanics of the approval system without having an knowledge of the process. This is probably understandable. However, every act of gallantry does need witnesses - and these witnesses do need to write down what they have seen - not always easy for young soldiers with limited literary skills. It is hard to get it right and make the impact.

I have a recommendation by a CO in WW1 for a VC and the soldier concerned got nothing not even a lower award.

The system - because it dealing with people - it never going to be 100% prefect, but it well tried. As i said if you witness an act of bravery - write it down at the time, don't just talk about in the pub after the war. (I prefer 'soldiers' to the term Other Ranks).
6th March 2005Paul Cubbin
Martin - yep, you're absolutely right. I was just having a general murmur about the imperfection of the system and don't have any great solutions myself - I was treating the Discussion Forum like a table in the Snug; chewing the fat, so to speak. Administration in any organisation can be frustrating; in the British Army in can be ludicrous. Also, I deliberately chose the term O/R to distinguish between Officers and NCO's / privates.