Monday, 30 November 2015

British Veterans National Defence Medal (NDM)


The cost of archive retrieval of personal records, put out to contract at £25.00 a time, has been responsible for the failure of Government to recognise millions of veterans.

Whilst the Nation was commemorating 100 years since the beginning of the First World War and reaffirming their promise that ‘we will never forget’, the government chose to bury the bad news that a National Defence Medal (NDM) would not be awarded to all those servicemen and women who had kept the Nation, its territories and its interests safe and secure since the ending of the Second World War as it would cost too much.

In 2008 David Cameron, promised a review of all outstanding military medal claims and that the Honours and Decorations Committee, responsible for making recommendations on the institution of medals, would become more transparent.  As Prime Minister he directed, in 2011, the Ministry of Defence to carry out the long over due medal review.

The review turned down all medal submissions which stretched back over 65 years, including medallic recognition of the Arctic Convoy and Bomber Command veterans. Freedom of Information Act requests by NDM campaigners discredited the review, showing it had been a paper exercise, carried out over just two weeks and without speaking to a single veteran. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were unimpressed and directed Sir John Holmes, a retired diplomat, reporting to the Cabinet Office, to carry out a fresh independent medal review.

Sir John made a point of speaking to all chairmen of the numerous medal campaign groups and in his first report (June 2012) he recommended to the Prime Minister that the NDM was worthy of further study and the complete medal system be more open and transparent.   This paved the way for the old rules governing medals to be updated and the award of the Arctic Convoy medal and Bomber Command medal clasp to be agreed.

Although Sir John’s final report was completed in December 2013, it was not published and has still not been made public.  Two meetings of the Honours and Decorations Committee subsequently followed but with a total lack of transparency.

Finally, eight months after Sir John had submitted his ‘secret’ recommendations, a Government statement was made on the 29 July 2014 in the House of Lords, the day before they left for their summer holidays, and a week after the MPs had left for their summer recess. The HD Committee had evidently not been persuaded that a strong case could be made at this time for the institution of the NDM and it was too costly.  Debate and questions in the House on a sensitive matter had been avoided.

Despite the PM’s wish that the HD committee deliberations be more transparent, they were not, and Sir John’s review over two years had in the end been little better than the previous discredited MoD two week review.  All veteran medal campaigning groups had again been kept totally in the dark, had no idea how the decisions had been made by the HD committee or the case that had been placed before them and consequently no opportunity to appeal.  It had become yet another discredited review despite all of Sir John’s enthusiasm and hard work.

There is no doubt that the NDM campaign has been well executed, its case extremely strong, and has received enthusiastic support from the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg; the leader of UKIP Nigel Farrage and indeed the institution of the NDM is the party policy of both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.  In addition, the award of the NDM had been one of the most well supported ‘Early Day Motions’ in Parliament.

Despite much support from a grateful Nation and political support for those who have kept the Nation and its interests safe and secure for nearly 70 years, £8.50 per medal was deemed a ‘price too far’ for the Government.  The high costs paid to civilian contractors for the archive retrieval system had scuppered those who had kept the Nation safe and secure.  This is disappointing especially as Danny Alexander prior to becoming the First Secretary to the Treasury wrote,
    “I strongly agree that the work, dedication and skill of all our former service personnel should be recognised formally. The introduction of a National Defence Medal would ensure that our veterans are given the respect they  deserve and are no longer forgotten heroes.”

Sadly, seven years campaigning by NDM activists has seen many die or become infirmed and this is mirrored across the veteran community.  A letter I received this week from a 76 year old veteran was particularly poignant,
    “I have campaigned for many years but now see no prospect of an NDM in my life time.    It disappoints the hell out of me. I am now prepared to die unadorned alongside thousands of others who will suffer the same disillusionment and disappointment. I have a wife who is now fully dependent on me and I must conserve my faculties and strength – goodbye folks.”

During the coming days I will write to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to seek their explanation as to why a case that has been proved to be so strong for recognition of millions of this Nation’s veterans, can be turned down on what appears to be the false calculations of cost by the MoD, even a former Armed Forces Minister, Sir Nick Harvey says the MoD have got it wrong?.  Why is it an alternative to the £25.00 a time archive retrieval system the Government has set in place cannot be considered, there are plenty of former service personnel from a ‘Can Do’ society waiting to be asked to become involved?  Why is the call for greater transparency that they and Sir John Holmes have openly embraced been ignored and a two year medal review become discredited?

By Colonel Terry Scriven (rtd)

Co-Chairman of the National Defence Medal Campaign

Read more HERE