WEARING OF THE PJM MEDAL – 11 December 2007

Dr Julian Lewis: I was just checking a fact with the proposer of this excellent debate, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Don Touhig), relating to the introduction of the veterans badge. The reason why I wished to be certain about that was that a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of receiving my own veterans badge for some very modest service in the Royal Naval Reserve as an ordinary seaman some years ago. I felt a little thrill of pride, which was no doubt completely unjustified, but it was very nice to feel that a little bit of service to society in the armed forces had been recognised in that way. How much more significant it would be for someone who was involved in risking life and limb in a serious war-fighting campaign to receive recognition in the form of a medal for the risks that they had taken and for their achievements.

I have been involved in one or two similar campaigns in the past, but they were campaigns with a bit of a difference. When the right hon. Gentleman, whom I congratulate on the bravura way in which he presented the case today, was Minister for Veterans, I was heavily involved with the campaign to try to get an Arctic Star for the veterans of the Russian convoys. It was remarkable how much resistance there was to that, yet there was a considerable difference between that case and this, because no medal had been given for the Arctic convoys at all, although it was argued unconvincingly that some of the veterans were eligible for the Atlantic Star, which made me wonder not only about the intellectual rigour of the case, but about the geographical limitations of the people advancing it.

Eventually, although an Arctic Star was awarded, it was in the form of an Arctic Star emblem. I do not believe that permission was ever formally given for that to be integrated with the officially awarded Second World War medal range, but it was designed to be easily capable of attachment to the ribbons of those Second World War medals, and the effect is that everybody happily wears the Arctic Star emblem today among the medals and nobody raises a word of objection about it. Therefore, the first thing that I would say to any veteran who has received the PJM medal is:

“Put it on your medal range. Wear it proudly and my guess is that nobody will say a word about it.”

Sandra Gidley: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I was invited to a medal ceremony, and the pride of the men in their medals was almost tangible. I suggested to them the very same thing that the hon. Gentleman suggested, but it is not quite the same. They want official recognition and official permission to wear the medal, because ultimately they were soldiers and they are law-abiding – they like to abide by the rules.

Dr Lewis: The hon. Lady anticipates a point that I was coming to. Nevertheless, when it comes to practical advice, the first step should be to say: “You have the medal. Wear it and do so with pride.”

The problem that the Ministry of Defence and the HD Committee face is not that they wish to regard the PJM as a second-class medal – I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that any civil servant who referred to it in those terms is not fit to hold his job – but that it is a second medal. That is where I think the difficulty arises, because some of the medal campaigns that we have fought retrospectively, such as Commander Eddie Grenfell’s campaign for an Arctic Star or Captain Peter Kimm’s campaign for a Canal Zone medal for royal naval personnel – I want to touch on that in a moment – are for cases in which no medal was awarded at all.

Lorely Burt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr Lewis: I would like to develop the point a little further, but if the hon. Lady would like to try again later, I will be happy to give way to her.

In the cases to which I was referring, the difficulty related primarily to the amount of time that had elapsed since the campaign took place. That issue is, I think, dead and buried because the Canal Zone campaign set a precedent for going back into the records and retrospectively awarding a General Service Medal, which I believe is known nowadays as an Overseas Service Medal, to people who qualified as a result of their service in the Canal Zone. The reason given for doing that was that it could not be shown that the idea had been put up for a medal or a clasp to a General Service Medal to be awarded for that service at the time, and rejected; so I went to considerable lengths to try to show the same thing with regard to an Arctic Star in the Second World War and I could find no record. I went through the HD Committee and through the Ceremonial Department, as I think it was, that supplied the records that the HD Committee would have considered in relation to the awarding of Second World War campaign stars, and I could find no suggestion that a medal for the Arctic had been considered and rejected, either. However, in that case, one had to settle for an emblem, whereas in the case of the Canal Zone, it was retrospectively decided to award the clasp or, in the case of those who did not have a General Service Medal already, the medal together with the clasp.

The problem with the Pingat Jasa Malaysia, it is only fair to point out, is that the campaign is not one that has not been recognised. The British Government have quite properly recognised it by awarding a General Service Medal with a clasp. It raises a question of arbitrariness for a Government who have benefited from the work of British servicemen and women to wish to award a medal retrospectively for service for which a medal has already been awarded. It is possible that somebody who received a General Service Medal and clasp for service under equally severe conditions – perhaps in another theatre of war where the Government were not as appreciative after our withdrawal as in Malaysia – might feel a tad resentful that their colleagues got two medals and they only got one.

That is the sort of consideration that the Ministry of Defence is doubtless thinking about. I presume – the right hon. Member for Islwyn will correct me if I am wrong – that it must have been with the co-operation of the Ministry of Defence that the Malaysian Government got PJM medals into those ex-servicemen’s hands in the first place. Without that co-operation, it would have been impossible to administer the scheme whereby they got the medals. Primary consideration must therefore be given to those people – I do not know whether there are any; I invite interventions to set me right – who served in Malaysia but who for some reason did not get a medal from the British Government. If anyone falls into that category, there should not be the slightest question about their being allowed to wear the foreign decoration.

Lorely Burt: As I understand it, the majority of servicemen who sacrificed and endured during the Malaysian campaigns did not receive a medal for it. Is it not therefore the case that the double medal rule does not apply? Those men have nothing that they can wear in public that recognises their sacrifice and service.

Dr Lewis: That is extremely helpful. I do not know how many of the people who served in that campaign received no medal or clasp at all. I invite the Minister to concentrate on that point in his reply.

That leads me happily to the fact that I am the proud possessor of a set of miniature medals given to me by the family of the famous airman Flight Lieutenant Kinkead, who is buried in my constituency. He won two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Distinguished Service Order and a Mention in Dispatches between 1917 and 1919, both on the Western Front and in the intervention in Russia. It is relevant because among those miniature medals are two awarded by the White Russian authorities with whom he fought on detachment – unofficially, as it were, but officially – for the Royal Air Force in 1919 and 1920. Indeed, his DSO was for service in that campaign.

There is therefore a huge precedent for allowing foreign medals to be worn when the British Government have not already awarded a campaign service medal or clasp. I am surprised by the statement of the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) that that applies to the majority of PJM recipients. If so, the point is crucial. If not, it is still most important for the minority of people who did not receive an award from the United Kingdom.

I should declare an indirect interest. My partner’s father, Frank Souness DFC, was decorated for his service* in the RAF during the Malayan campaign in 1955, and I believe that his subsequent service entitles him to the PJM. Most people will recognise that there is a distinction between those who are awarded nothing for a campaign and those who have already been recognised for it by the British Government. It is not an easy point to make. We all wish to salute the gallantry of people who risk their lives in such campaigns. I look forward to hearing the Minister clarify whether attention will be addressed, at least as a first step, to those veterans of the Malaysian campaign who received the PJM but who never received any other award for their service.

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* 'COURAGE OVER THE JUNGLE'

Shrewsbury Advertiser – 25 May 1955

[CAPTION:] Flying Officer Francis Scott Souness who it was announced in the London Gazette last week has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services in the operations in Malaya between June 1 and November 30 of last year.

Aged 24 and a native of Galashiels, Flying Officer Souness is at present stationed at RAF Shawbury and is staying at Maesbrook Country Club, Meole Brace.

The citation reads:

"Since joining No.110 Squadron in May 1952, he has completed 148 operational sorties in Malaya and is a navigator who has shown meticulous care and untiring energy while locating dropping zones deep in the jungle. In flights over difficult terrain, often uninhabited, and often in adverse weather, his determination and courage have often exceeded the call of duty.

"Malayan operations depend largely for success on accurate navigation and map reading and, by his wealth of experience, calm efficiency, courage and high sense of duty, Flying Officer Souness has inspired the whole squadron."