Forgotten war? Veterans of Aden conflict fight for medals
The retired servicemen, who were reservist airborne engineers suddenly called into warfighting while on their two-week annual training exercise, have long argued they should be given the General Service Medal (GSM) with South Arabia clasp.
Prior to the construction of the Suez Canal, Aden, which is now part of Yemen, had been a British possession used primarily as a naval base to protect trade routes.
The rise of Arab nationalism through the 1950s and into the 1960s saw a number of divergent guerrilla groups begin to coalesce around issues of national determination, inspired by the doctrine of Egyptian President Abdel Nasser.
A rise in violent attacks aimed at UK military personnel and police by anti-colonialist forces saw a crackdown with an increased military deployment of all three services.
British operations in Aden, as elsewhere during the withdrawal from empire, remain marred by allegations that torture was liberally employed in an effort to break up anti-British movements.
Their surprise involvement in battle in April 1965 saw two senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs) killed in a raid by insurgents near the Yemeni frontier.
The troops had been working on a construction project building a road near Al-Milah in the northern part of Aden.
Despite their role in active combat, and the unit’s medical officer receiving an award for valor, the veterans are not deemed by the military to have served the requisite 28 days on operations to be eligible for a campaign medal.
Army chiefs insist exceptions to the 28-day rule can only be made to those injured or killed.
Maj Gen Robert Nitsch, who heads the Army Personnel Directorate, recently told the veterans: “Regrettably, I cannot authorize an exception, nor would it be appropriate to use a campaign award to recognize the actions of a Territorial unit when the rules applied equally to them as to regular soldiers.”
Retired sergeant John Donaldson told the Telegraph: “We are only asking for the campaign medal, nothing special.
We did everything that was asked of us in very challenging circumstances.“Politicians have spoken in support of us and while other campaigns have successfully seen exceptions, we have been refused.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told the paper that the department painstakingly considered “every request to recognize our brave men and women’s extraordinary accomplishments, for which we are extremely grateful.”