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Medal for Suez Canal Zone 1951 to 1954
The Arctic Emblem
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Medal for Suez Canal Zone 1951 to 1954

For some years veterans expressed a wish for a medal to be instituted retrospectively for service in the Suez Canal Zone during the early 1950s. This proposal resulted in a number of comprehensive reviews which were carried out during the 1990s on behalf of the MOD by the Army Historical Branch. Although the surviving records, the vast majority of which had been sent to the Public Record Office at Kew for retention and release to the public domain, were incomplete, there was evidence that General Sir Brian Robertson, the Commander in Chief of the Middle East Land Forces at the time, had made a tentative enquiry about the possibility of a campaign medal in 1952. It was assumed that the matter was discussed by members of the Army Council, out of committee, and they decided that there was no case to justify a medal at that time.

However, there was no firm evidence to prove that the request received proper consideration. Whilst successive Governments had been prepared to hold the HD Committee's line of non retrospection (see above), there was a growing feeling in the present Government that while the many other campaigns from veterans for new or modified medals had at least been considered Departmentally at some point, it was not certain that the case for a Canal Zone medal had received such treatment.

In the summer of 2002 the Prime Minister asked the then Cabinet Secretary and Chairman of the HD Committee to look into the matter. He held a meeting with MPs and selected representatives of the major Canal Zone veterans' organisations. Subsequently, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence, and Minister for Veterans Affairs, Dr Lewis Moonie MP responded to a written Parliamentary Question which was tabled in the House of Commons on 23rd July 2002 on the subject of a Canal Zone medal. He said that the Government considered it to be important to respect the principle that where there was a clear, demonstrable decision taken within five years of a campaign that a GSM should not be awarded, the case should not be reopened. However, the evidence relating to consideration of a GSM for the Suez Canal Zone in the early 1950s was less clear cut.

In view of the exceptional circumstances, a sub-committee of the HD Committee under the chairmanship of General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank was formed, to report on the case for an exceptional award of a GSM for the Suez Canal Zone without creating a wider precedent, or breaching long-standing principles which underpinned the making of such awards.

The sub-committee took evidence from the veterans' representatives and from the MOD on 22nd November 2002. They informed the HD Committee of their recommendations before Christmas and the Committee carefully considering the matter.

The Present
On 11th June 2003, in answer to a Written Question in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister announced that the sub-committee of the HD Committee chaired by General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank had recommended the award of the Naval General Service Medal 1915-62 and the General Service Medal 1918-62 with a new clasp for service in the Suez Canal Zone between 16th October 1951 and 19th October 1954, and the HD Committee had endorsed the recommendation. The then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence, Ivor Caplin MP announced in a Written Ministerial Statement to the House of Commons on 23rd October 2003 that The Queen had agreed the qualifying criteria and that a Command Paper had been laid before Parliament. He said that medals would be issued as soon as possible.

The HD Committee made clear at that time that they had reviewed and confirmed the general principle that there should be no retrospective award of medals for actions or deployments which occurred more than five years in the past and that principle was also supported by Lord Guthrie's sub-committee. This meant in simple terms, that the Canal Zone was considered to be a one-off. The HD Committee confirmed that it would not consider other cases for service carried out years ago where no medals were ever awarded, or look at existing medals with a view to modifying their qualifying criteria for any reason.

Applying for the medal

Veterans of the Canal Zone, or the next-of-kin of those who have died, should apply in writing to the MOD Medal Office, giving full name, date of birth and Service number. As with the initial issue of all other British campaign awards there will be no charge for the medal. There has been criticism in the Press about delays in issuing these medals, which was caused by a backlog of initial applications received in the latter half of 2003. At peak, the medal offices received over 2,000 applications in a week. Since then over 40,000 cases have been reviewed and the waiting list has been reduced substantially. It is anticipated that all outstanding cases will be dealt with within the next few months.

The address of the medal office is as follows:

MOD Medal Office
Building 250
RAF Innsworth

Email: [email protected]
Fax: 0141 224 3586
Free Phone: 0800 085 3600
Overseas Civ: +44 (0) 141 224 3600

They will acknowledge every application on receipt. In common with other campaign medals, all applications will be dealt with strictly in the order that they are received. Although the backlog has been substantially reduced in recent months please be prepared for a wait. A dedicated Canal Zone new section has been established at the Medal Office and all the available resources are concentrating on recovering the necessary Service files from the Departmental archives, checking individual eligibility and preparing medals for despatch. All cases are being dealt with as quickly as possible.

Checking eligibility

It is a basic principle of the Honours and Awards system that medals are not issued unless qualification has been proved from official records. Regrettably, there is a lack of detail in many Service records of the 1950s and some people who believe their service qualified them for a medal and clasp will not be able to receive them because of the absence of satisfactory evidence.

Don't worry. This does not mean that individuals' Records of Service have been lost or destroyed. Very few Service files are mislaid. In most cases where they are not held in the archives, and therefore not immediately available, it is because they are already in use elsewhere, perhaps by the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency for use in assessment for a War Pension, or similar.

However, medals will only be issued if it can be proved from official evidence that an individual was in the right place at the right time for the necessary minimum period. It is known that some records of service give only general statements of where people served and corroboration will need to be sought from other records. As we are certain veterans already understand, medals are not issued automatically. If the medal offices are unable to confirm eligibility, a medal will not be awarded. This is common to all applications for campaign medals and nothing to get alarmed about. There is no difficulty in the vast majority of cases, but it depends on what is contained in the records. Careful checks are made before medals are issued which is a skilled, time-consuming and exacting job, but the medal office has skilled staff who are experts at assessing eligibility quickly and accurately.

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