Army gallantry under fire......The Times

Discussion in 'Postwar' started by Ron Goldstein, Dec 1, 2014.

  1. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    I was intrigued to read the following full page article in today's Times:

    Tom Coghlan
    Last updated at 12:01AM, December 1 2014
    The integrity of Britain’s centuries-old military honours system has been questioned amid allegations that a second Military Cross has been awarded after exaggerated accounts of a soldier’s gallantry.
    An investigation is under way into the actions of Lieutenant William Boreham of 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, who was awarded a Military Cross for his courage during a patrol in September 2012.
    In October, Major Robert Armstrong of the Royal Artillery became the first officer ever to have his gallantry award rescinded, after he was found to have written his own exaggerated medal citation.
    Senior officers expressed alarm at news of the second investigation.
    “Clearly we have had one case recently and now another,” said Lord Dannatt, a former commander of the British army. “One is unfortunate, two is very unfortunate and three is a trend. The awards system depends on the integrity of all involved.”
    The MoD declined to discuss the investigation by the Royal Military Police. An army spokesperson said: “It would be wholly inappropriate for us to comment on any matters that may relate to ongoing investigations.”
    The Times understands that the investigation will seek to establish whether the medal citation was exaggerated, and if so, by whom.
    Military rules dictate that the recipient of a gallantry award should not know in advance and should have no hand in the writing of the citation, which should be written by a more senior officer.
    This creates the possibility that Lieutenant Boreham may have had no knowledge before the award was announced of claims being made on his behalf.
    Officials stressed that any doubts over whether decorations had been fairly awarded would always be thoroughly investigated.
    Serving and former soldiers have raised concerns over the potential for misuse of the system. Quotas imposed in Afghanistan and Iraq on the number of medals that can be awarded are cited as creating incentives for exaggeration or even outright fraud.
    “The gallantry system has an issue because of the quotas — Afghanistan has highlighted it,” said one decor-ated serving officer, who cannot be named.
    Another former officer, who did not wish to be named, said of the system generally: “There is no doubt in my mind that accounts have been embellished. The system cannot be corrupt if it is to have credibility.”
    Lieutenant Boreham, 34, from Cheshire, was ten minutes into his first patrol in Helmand, walking behind a soldier from the King’s Royal Hussars, when the man trod on an improvised explosive device.
    The lieutenant was “stunned by the blast”, his citation claimed, but quickly recovered and sent a radio report calling for a medical evacuation helicopter. He then helped another soldier to carry the man for 30 metres as bullets struck around them.
    His citation concluded: “His ability to take charge of a situation which he had never experienced before, deal with a deadly insurgent attack and protect the lives of the remainder of the patrol and of the helicopter was a display of the very highest gallantry.”
    However, after the medal was awarded the citation was challenged by members of the King’s Royal Hussars, who were also on the patrol as part of a handover process between the two units.
    Defenders of the system say that it is rigorous but depends on the integrity of officers. Many acknowledge that Iraq and Afghanistan, where troops saw intense combat in mostly small-scale battles, created huge numbers of deserving candidates for a limited pool of awards.
    However, one serving officer said: “All citations are embellished. If you write the bare facts, the very straight facts, none would pass muster. Everybody writes the facts and embellishes with colour. It is because there is a quota system. There shouldn’t be a quota system for courage.
    “An officer will say: ‘I have to do the best for my man, he has to be better than this other guy.’ That is why they embellish. No one is doing it to cheat the system, they are doing it to get their soldiers recognised.”
    In both the recent investigations, the complaints were made by soldiers from a different regiment.
    A medal citation is written up initially by the most senior officer involved in the action and often reviewed or rewritten by a more senior officer. It then goes to the brigade commander, who will review and reject those deemed insufficiently remarkable before submitting those remaining to the MoD. The ministry’s gallantry awards review committee may then award appropriate medals from the various distinctions available.
    Major-General Andrew Mackay, who commanded the British forces in Helmand in 2008, said that the system was “really rigorous” and insisted that there was some flexibility in the number of awards given.
    He added: “I do think it puts a lot of pressure on how well [an award] is written up. Exaggeration tends to make it excluded [by the gallantry awards review committee], you get a sense of exaggeration. But there is an art in writing these things, of course.”

    Smudger Jnr likes this.
  2. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Interesting to see the article Ron. This is becoming a worrying trend. You might think that with the amount of communication possible these days and the use of video and recording of patrols, that this sort of thing, if true, would prove difficult to achieve. It also seems strange that the other unit invovled challenged the award after the medal had been presented.
  3. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hi Ron. Do you think that the bar to medal awards has been set lower.? With respect to the latest medal recipients. Comparing with what we did..Our medal awards were as rare as hens teeth. .i have been looking at our awards, the RE got more than any other regiment or corps. But when you consider that medals awarded to 17000 men in battle from the beaches to Bremen it does seem the bar was much higher then.

    Keep well Ron.
  4. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    For the sake of clarity, I would not even think of questioning the value of post ww2 war gallantry awards (as compared to those issued in ww2 itself) and I am sure the rightful authorities will examine the present criteria to maintain the status quo.

    Having said that, I have just fired off a letter to the Times saying that I am more interested in awards that were NEVER made and I cited my old friend Jack Nissenthal as a VC that never was

  5. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    You obviously haven't read some of the WW2 citations I've read ;)
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    There is some correspondence in the WO 373 files which were released by TNA. I'm sorry to say I didn't take a note of which one.
    Based on the award of one gallantry medal to a person subsequently deemed undeserving, IIRC the communications referred to other similar matters and an insistence that such embarrassing incidents should not occur again, that recommendations should not be put before HM The King for his signature without all the facts having been properly checked first ... ...

    This latest run surely shows that again the checks and referencing haven't been carried out as thoroughly as they should have been.

    The varying quality of some WW2 medal recommendations certainly made me at times wonder about the whole process. Despite the volume that must have reached their in-trays (that is in comparison to the size of today's army) some officers took great care to record as much as possible while other recommendations are barely more than a list, with the same slip of paper being used for more than one man. It appears from the amount of paperwork involved that in general recommendations for POWs & Escapees had to jump through relatively more hoops.
  7. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    During the battles I have been in there was so much bravery and courage being shown by men all round me, I would have been at a loss to determine who should be signalled out for an Award. All seemed worthy.

    What is wrong with the Awards system, in my view, that they are down-graded if it is to be awarded posthumously.

    I served with Andrew Rowan when I was given command of 18 Platoon, ‘D’ Company. As he had been with the British Expeditionary Force, I readily enlisted his experience in our training and promoted him Lance-Corporal. He was five years older than myself, and I admired and respected him as a natural leader with strong strength of character and saw him as a good man to have by your side. Sometime after I left the Platoon to be Battalion Intelligence Officer, he was promoted to Corporal in command of a Section.

    The 7th/9th Royal Scots faced fierce fighting in Broedersbosch Forest during the 155 Infantry Brigade’s attack to capture Kasteel Blijenbeek, a fortress about two miles from the German frontier. It was the start of the British operation to break through the Siegfried Line. The fighting was fierce as the German troops defended their country’s borders, and we suffered heavy casualties, with the loss of 7 Royal Scots killed and 3 more died from their wounds and 30 other officers and men wounded.

    During the battle Corporal Andrew Rowan realising his officer was severely wounded and all the other NCOs casualties, he unhesitatingly took control and successfully led the Platoon forward to its objective. In this brave action of leadership, he was killed. He clearly demonstrated great leadership and bravery by his actions and worthy of the Distinguished Conduct Medal or the Military Medal but because his brave deeds had cost him his own life it was only recognised by the Award of a ‘Mention in Despatches’.

    I am proud to have known him: his courage and friendship warmly and proudly remembered and the loss of this fine Royal Scot ever mourned.

    Joe Brown.
  8. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    Thank you so much for letting us read this tale of undisputed courage not being given it's due recognition.

    Best regards

  9. snailer

    snailer Country Member

    There is a thread on RAFCommands that shows a list of stock phrases to help in writing out RAF recommendations, I wonder if there were similar lists for the other services.
    Post 5 details a DFC citation that a higher authority wanted upgrading to a DSO but the CO stuck to his guns, said the man didn’t deserve one and a DFC was eventually awarded.


    Drew5233 and dbf like this.
  10. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

  11. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    In Rons original post the last paragraph and in particular the last sentence is essentially the key.

    Major-General Andrew Mackay, who commanded the British forces in Helmand in 2008, said that the system was “really rigorous” and insisted that there was some flexibility in the number of awards given.
    He added: “I do think it puts a lot of pressure on how well [an award] is written up. Exaggeration tends to make it excluded [by the gallantry awards review committee], you get a sense of exaggeration. But there is an art in writing these things, of course.”

    If you were lucky enough to have an Officer in Charge that wrote an excellent Report, both Grammatically correct and including all Information as required, you are more likely to end up with an Award being made. Good Report writing is a form of Art.

  12. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member


    Agree with your comments. As you know, it was an anomaly with the gallantry awards system for many years that only the VC and George Cross could be awarded posthumously. The only other recognition allowed for acts of bravery that led to death was MiD, so there was nothing in between (e.g. Military Medal or Military Cross). Thankfully, this changed in 1979. Now the Military Cross (which was amalgamated with the MM) can be awarded posthumously.


  13. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Never understand why people think so little of a MiD...I think it does a disservice to those who were awarded it. I got told by an old timer it was a proper Soldiers award and that'll do for me. The system then was what it was and nothing can change that. Some of the MiD's I've read about from the 1940 campaign blow plenty of DSOs, MCs, DCMs and MMs out of the water by a long mile.
    AndyBaldEagle likes this.
  14. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Fully agree that Mention in Despatches is an honourable Award recognising conspicuous service in the face of the enemy. However, it does not fully recognise the valour and leadership of Corporal Rowan, who, if he had survived would have been acclaimed for the Military Medal or in my judgment the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

    Joe Brown.
  15. zahonado

    zahonado Well-Known Member

    I have been considering the question of what makes a hero a great deal. I have no axe to grind, but it seems that where you have a professional army, what individuals do depends on the situation and as long as they and others around them know the truth of what they did, that should be enough. Where armies are volunteers, or conscripts, any especially heroic acts for example to rescue others should be recognised. However if the amount of consideration given to the matter of medals could be given to whether the armies should be there in the first place, perhaps there would be more peace in the world.
    Does a medal really compensate families for the loss of their loved one? I don't think so.
    Drew5233 likes this.
  16. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    No, it certainly does not but could anything? I don't know if that was ever the prime intent.
  17. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    I think there has been a few attempts on here to change the mindset about MiDs, in particular those awarded posthumously. I recall helping research an obit for one man whose MC citation file turned up something quite unexpected. He had been on a sabotage mission with a fellow officer, they both had done exactly the same successful job: only one had died of wounds and the other had been subsequently captured. Upon liberation, the recommendation for MC was set in motion and filed amongst this paperwork was the MiD for his fellow officer. They had been dealt with in tandem. To me that's a clear example of how they both should be treated with the same respect, since only the VC and MiD could at that time be awarded posthumously. I read somewhere that a posthumous VC awardee's name had been put forward initially for MiD, because the full details were only later collated, some from German witnesses.

    So I'd rather a posthumous award wasn't thought of as a missed medal rather that MiDs were given better recognition in the first place. That case isn't helped however by the fact that the MiD citations are mostly all gone; there is little to compare or analyse. (Recently it was drawn to my attention that one surviving recipient sadly still didn't know exactly why he was awarded one.)
    Drew5233 likes this.
  18. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    I recall several veterans accounts which lamented the fact that "the best and the bravest of us died first as they lead from the front and took the most risks". Posthumous awards were important in recognizing those men.
  19. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

  20. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    It's harsh, but actually withdrawing medals when the action for which they were awarded is found to have failed to meet the established criteria is the only way to restore confidence in the system. Once you start handing them out for simply 'doing the job' or even 'doing the hob well', it's only a step away from 'Buggins' turn' and the logic of, 'he's been here long enough and he's a team player, so it's about time he got some ribbon.'

    Perhaps we can get the authorities to knock down some first-class degrees and A*+s down to sensible levels next.

Share This Page