Now in my 8th decade I find it a little difficult to recall the era of my youth with any great clarity. It was a very different world then that is for sure. However, from time to time an event will occur which helps to bring those far-off days into sharper focus.
One such event took place the other day when my daughter showed me a photograph of the GSM my grandson had just received as a result of his 3-month detachment to RAF Akrotiri last year. Two things struck me at the time. The first was how smart it looked in its presentation box, and the second was that – in spite of my 14 years’ serviced (1956-1970) I actually left the RAF sans medals.
In 1956 of course, with the world war still relatively recent, medals were worn by a very considerable number of people one encountered as an Apprentice or junior NCO. Although not obsesed by them (honest) I probably felt at the time that it was likely that something would come my way during my enlistment. I never had any illusions about receiving the VC, DSO or even the DFC, being much too timid to aspire to such acts of bravado but the itch still lingered for some modest recognition in due course.
Alas it was not to be and even when I – very much later – paraded with my ATC squadron on Remembrance Sunday – my best blue remained unadorned.
This has led me to speculate on how this state of affairs came about. Between 1960-1963 I served with NATO HQ in Oslo and vividly recall the night President Kennedy broadcast his ultimatum of the Russian ships then approaching Cuba with missiles lashed on their decks. OK you may say, yours truly was hardly in the line of fire and – in any case – could have taken shelter in the supposedly bomb-proof Kolsas bunker! Oslo itself offered little in the way of hazardous duty when one recalls a life of smorgasbord and skiing so perhaps the award of a commemorative medal would have been inappropriate.
But Hong Kong (1966-1968) – now that was a different kettle of fish entirely. The Cultural Revolution resulted in the Colony’s water supply being interrupted (no baths for 4 days), while the nearby Portugese enclave of Macao was invaded by the Peoples’ Liberation Army on motorboats waving the famous little Red Book of Mao’s Thoughts (I was there that day). In addition from time to time Chinese activists made a nuisance of themselves (ie leaving a brown paper bag containing a live Cobra on the tram tracks in Wanchai).
In spite of this those hard-hearted Civil Servants in the MOD resolutely refused to see their way to the granting of even the lowly GSM for such arduous service, thereby condemning me to the status of those Shakespearean “gentlemen in England now a-bed” who “Shall think themselves accursed they were not here (on Crispin’s Day).
Ain’t life unfair. Where is my medal?