Thursday, 9 November 2006

Steadily, and blade by blade…

Skip this one, unless maudlin reminiscence turns you on.

Fifty-five years ago, I was languishing (exactly the right word in this context) in Ismailia, in the Suez Canal Zone. There had been a long bureaucratic delay in sending me home for a WOSB (if you don’t know what that is you shouldn’t be reading this), so I wrote to my mother and asked her to write to the Minister for War (they had honest titles in those days). He replied courteously, saying that “a hastener” was being sent to the War Office.

A few weeks later, my CO, a pompous double-barrelled ass who had done nothing to press my cause, summoned me and announced ceremoniously that I was about to be flown back. I replied: “Yes sir, I know, my mother has already told me”. He never spoke to me again, not even to wish me luck.

I passed the WOSB, just in time to go to cadet school and buy the hat (£5 10s 0d, made to measure) before my undistinguished two years of National Service drew to its close. Not long after, the rest of the 30,000 brave lads guarding the Canal were also brought home, but a couple of years after that Nasser nationalised the canal and Anthony Eden cooked up a plot with the Israelis and the French to provide an excuse for parachuting troops in to seize it back again. This led to what many referred to as The Suez Debbakull; if Eden, and later Tony Blair, had consulted me about the wisdom of invading Arab countries on flimsy pretexts, they might have avoided such idiocy and the world would now be a safer place.

Then, in 2003, it was announced that a medal was to be awarded to all those who had served in the Canal Zone (presumably the cheapskates had delayed this for half a century in the hope that many of those eligible would have died and so would be unlikely to ask for one), and as I wasn’t at all dead I applied. Two years went by and then I wrote to ask why it hadn’t come, to be told, “Now look, there are thousands to be sent out and it will take time”.

Another year passed and then I read the other day that there is now a Minister for Veterans, one Derek Twigg, MP (imagine, a whole minister just for us!), so I sent him an email. He didn’t reply, but ten days later —today—my medal arrived.

It’s a pretty thing, and I shall wear it with pride in the unlikely event that an appropriate occasion arises.

P.S. And the next day there came a charming letter from Pamela Kay, BSc (Hons), Secretariat Officer 1a, The Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency, on whose desk my email to young Twiggers had evidently landed. "Problem with the computer system... completely unacceptable delay... really sorry... far short of the standard we strive to achieve and to which you are entitled... please accept my apology..." The letter also told me that I may apply for a free Veterans Lapel Badge.
Also, it confirmed that my application "was received on the 21 February and approved on 12th April", though it didn't actually mention the year, which was 2004.
But I was not being sarcastic when I said it was a charming letter—it was not short and had clearly been composed with some thought, and not merely by stringing together the standard phrases. And it was on cream laid vellum: I take back what I wrote about cheapskates at the MoD.


Grumio said...

Congratulations! You should probably update your profile to indicate that, though modest about your exploits and disinclined to mention your bravery whilst firewatching at Sale, you are nonetheless a decorated veteran.

Tony said...

Kind of you, but such things cannot be compared with really heroic exploits such as Mostyn's, in the raid on St Nazaire.