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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Suez veterans to get medals
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Online

Medals are being awarded to British veterans who served in the first Suez emergency after nearly 50 years, the UK prime minister has announced.

Tony Blair confirmed the servicemen - sometimes called the "Forgotten Army" - would finally be recognised with a general service medal and a new commemorative "clasp" in a written answer to a parliamentary question.

Suez battle
The emergency preceded the 1956 crisis
The decision was welcomed by veterans of the conflict and MPs who have campaigned for medals to be issued, although the timing of the announcement has prompted some scepticism from some, coming just after the Iraq war.

The emergency, which lasted between 1951-1954 and preceded the disastrous Suez Crisis of 1956, claimed 300 lives.

Rules governing medals say they cannot usually be awarded more than five years after a conflict, but a committee said special circumstances meant they could now be struck.

Graham Allen MP told BBC News Online it was a triumph over "mean pettifogging" by the MoD.

You didn't know who you were up against - you had to go in pairs and carry weapons
Kenneth Reid

"We owe these people a debt of honour. I don't believe a single person would begrudge a medal to people who served their country.

"But the politics is why people haven't had what they deserved [previously]."

Mr Allen said successive governments may have been embarrassed by any recognition of the Suez period and praised Mr Blair for his decision.

Veteran Kenneth Reid, 69, from Nottingham, said the medal was "better late than never".

"We have been after it a long while and it has suddenly come to fruition - 50 years is a long time to wait."

Political reasons

Mr Reid, a driver in the RAF for two-and-a-half years, said the emergency had been a frightening time to serve.

"You didn't know who you were up against. You had to go in pairs and carry weapons."

Mr Reid said he had once nearly been killed by a bullet that flew just past him as he drove.

He said the failure to recognise the conflict had not been justified.

"I think it was political - there has been meeting after meeting, they seemed to want to forget the whole episode."

Dalyell support

John Rees, a founding member of the Stop the War coalition, said the timing of the medal - so soon after the Iraq war - was not good.

"Having, in their view, successfully completed one colonial enterprise they now feel they are able to award medals for another."

But anti-war Labour MP Tam Dalyell told BBC News Online he supported the move to award medals.

"I'm in favour of servicemen being rewarded when they have taken part in a campaign. It is not their decision [to go]."

The Suez emergency arose because of a stand-off between Britain and Egypt, partly over demands to evacuate a major military base, which led to riots and anti-British violence by guerillas.

The lengthy emergency saw the deployment of more than 200,000 troops with some technicians staying on after a settlement was reached with Egypt.

The canal was nationalised by the Egyptian government in 1956, prompting the Suez Crisis, which led to humiliation for Britain and France and the resignation of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, and has become a byword for colonial adventurism.



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