Someone brought medals into the shop for mounting last week. Their father has tended not to bother about his wartime service too much and has only just been made aware that the French Government has been giving out the Legion of Honour to veterans who participated in the Liberation of France in 1944-5. He now has his, and has decided to go to France for a memorial event in September. When he does he will be wearing a properly mounted set of medals.
He seems to have had quite an active war, and I don’t begrudge him the medal, but I can’t help thinking that giving someone a medal because he was in a certain country 75 years ago, and has lived long enough to collect it, is slightly devaluing his contribution, and the contributions of many others, including the people who kept the war going in Africa, the Atlantic and the Far East (to mention but a few). I worked with several Normandy veterans in the past, and I’m feeling slightly saddened that they didn’t live long enough to get an extra medal.
And that’s before we come to the irony that we were effectively at war with the French from 1940-42. The Vichy French killed a number of British and American troops in that time, and imprisoned others. I’ve always wondered what it must be like for veterans of those attacks to see the French posing as staunch opponents of the Nazis. You would think the least they could do would be to give a medal to our soldiers that they shot at.
Politics and warfare are always more complicated than they look.