A HEAVY CROSS TO BEAR

#1
Sorry about the length of this article, I was unable to find a link so I had to scan and post. I have tried to proof read and amend as best I can. If you find and glaring mistakes, its down to word-blindness. That said, I think it is a good read and the author raises some interesting points.

A HEAVY CROSS TO BEAR

Max Hastings yesterdays Daily Mail


ONE OF the most moving stories of recent days is that of Private Johnson Beharry. This mild-mannered 26-year-old, who last year became the British Army's only living VC Winner in two generations, vividly describes the unhappiness which the medal has brought him.

No one remembers him as he used to be, he says. 'Everyone forgets the old person. They see this great person and, you know, they expect me to; be that person.

Beharry is credited with saving the lives of 30 comrades after their column of Warrior armoured vehicles was ambushed in Iraq with an extraordinary exhibition of courage during the firelight which followed, in which he was wounded.

Since that day in 2004, his marriage has broken up. It is unlikely that he will sufficiently recover from the injuries he suffered to return to active duty. He finds himself short-tempered and surrounded by suppliants, striving to cope with the strains of fame.

Beharry's account of himself in his forthcoming autobiography is dismayingly familiar to historians.

Lt. lan Fraser of the Royal Navy, who won a VC in July 1945 for taking his "midget submarine into Singapore harbour to cripple a Japanese cruiser, wrote long afterwards: ‘A man is trained for the task that might win him a VC. He was not trained to cope with what follows.'

In the l9th century — I do not-know the comparable Statistics for the 20th century seven of 111 VC winners subsequently, killed themselves, representing a suicide rate ten times the national average. Many young men have found it impossibly difficult to live with the weight of that bronze cross on their chests.

Wing-Commander Guy Gibson, who won his VC leading the Dambusters in May 1943, never knew a contented moment again, until his death on another bomber operation in September 1944.

Sergeant - Major Stan Hollis of the Green Howards, who won his VC on D-Day in 1944, was a remarkable man, never forgotten by those who met him, including me. But his commanding officer said sadly of Hollis: 'I am afraid it was easier to get him a VC in the war, than a decent job after it.

One of the handful of post World War 11 British, VCs, Lance -Corporal Bill Speakman, who won his award in 1951 defending a hill in Korea against the Chinese with the King's Own Scottish Borderers, scarcely drew a sober breath after his investiture.

To brand a young soldier, sailor or airman with such a rare mark of honour is to confer a doubtful favour. Society's intention is honourable: to show how highly we value supreme courage.

But the humbler the background of the recipient, the harder he might find it to cope with the loss of personal privacy, with the people who want to pick fights in pubs, to scrounge money or merely-to ogle a celebrity. The truth is that prowess as a warrior often proves a doubtful asset in making a success of anything else.

Military decorations are odd things. The old saying is true: that no one knows what a medal is worth except the man who wins it.

Most 'gongs' are awarded straight forwardly enough, for acts of courage on the battlefield. However, especially in the case of VCs, there is often a political agenda not infrequently, to make everyone feel better after a military disaster. . .

Many senior officers were furious about the award of 11 VCs for the 24th Foot's defence of Rorke's Drift against the Zulus in January 1879. The 'brass' considered this

A politically -motivated gesture, following the Zulus' massacre of a British column at Isandlwana on the same day.

General Sir Garnet Wolseley wrote: 'It is monstrous making heroes of those — who, shut up in buildings at the Drift, could not bolt , & fought like rats for their lives; which they could not otherwise save.'

None of those given the Cross for Rorke's Drift ever distinguished themselves again, and several met conspicuously unhappy ends. In more recent times, the initial impetus for the award of a posthumous VC to Lt. Col. 'H' Jones for his action at Goose Green in the Falklands came from Downing Street, not from the Army. Among soldiers, both then and later, Jones's conduct of the battle was highly controversial.

Many' argued that charging personally at the Argentine positions was a gesture of despair, reflecting the fact that as a battalion commander, he had lost control

In May 1982, however, in the early stages of the Falklands conflict, the Government was politically beleaguered. Mrs Thatcher needed heroes and made sure that she got them.

The subsequent award or a second posthumous VC to Sergeant Ian Mackay, for his part in 3 Para's battle on Mount Longden during which he destroyed an Argentine bunker in an exhibition of extraordinary courage, partly reflected a Whitehall belief that, ' after a colonel had received Britain's supreme decoration, a non-commissioned soldier should be similarly recognised.

Please do not mistake what I am saying here. All those mentioned above were brave men, who did extraordinary things. Likewise, I have met no modern soldier with anything but the deepest admiration for what Private Beharry did at Al Amarah in 2004.

My point is simply that the scale of recognition for fine deeds is arbitrary and often influenced by non-military factors. Soldiers are' acutely sensitive to the nuances of awards, which is why the British Army is still so cross with John Major for imposing his 'classless' decorations system back in 1994.

In former times, only, officers were eligible for the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross; while other ranks received the Distinguished Conduct Medal or Military Medal.

CONTRARY to what foolish little Mr Major supposed, this arrangement had nothing to do with class distinction. It represented a recognition that officers and soldiers excel in different ways on the battlefield, because they do different Jobs.

Holders of the DCM were deeply proud of their medals, which were often won by acts of courage worthy of a" VC. Many? were uncomprehending when the Prime Master interfered in military matters of which he was wholly ignorant, to abolish the decoration.

It has often been argued — I think rightly — that it Is so difficult and invidious ,to single out a man for a Victoria Cross, that it should be awarded only to the dead. Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett. who led Bomber Command's Pathfinders in World War n, declared soon after he took over: "There will be no living VCs hi this group.' Bennett made only posthumous recommendations.

By chance, not long before Private Beharry's story was published last weekend, I found myself discussing 'gongs' with some senior Army officers. I suggested that VCs should be given only posthumously, partly because the medal imposes such stress upon on a living recipient.

My companions disagreed. They believed that it would be wrong to allow the awards of VCs to living soldiers to lapse — only three such have been gazetted since Korea.

in Iraq and Afghanistan, the British Army has experienced some of its heaviest and most sustained conventional combat in half a century. At a time when soldiers are acutely conscious that both campaigns are unpopular at home, recognition of courage and sacrifice seems especially important to sustain morale.

The colonel of 3 Para in Helmand Province in Afghanistan is anxious that an awards list for his battle-group's tour should be published as swiftly as possible, while memories are still fresh and maybe also. — though he did not say so — before some men make decisions about whether to stay in an Army by which they are disgracefully, monstrously underpaid.

All this makes good sense. Yet I retain my own doubts, reinforced by reading Johnson Beharry's account of himself.

It is a fine thing to give a man a medal that identifies him as a hero. It makes the British Army feel good to award a VC. However, the medal's history suggests that for recipients its specialness is as often a curse as a boon.

A few men enjoy every moment of the celebrity which it confers. Most, however, find the burden hard to bear. It seems to me better to reserve the Victoria Cross to mark the gravestones of fallen heroes rather than to adorn the breasts of young men, however worthy, with lives to make beyond the battlefield.
 
B

Biscuits_AB

Guest
#2
That article truly makes you think about what each VC winner went through and in the most recent case, is going through.

There needs to be more done to recognise the points brought up. I enjoyed reading the article for what it was.
 
#4
I don't: the points are interesting, but if someone does something extraordinary, he deserves the recognition. By this reasoning, this bloke would be ineligible for a VC:

Norman Jackson

Just read it: without, as Max Hastings says, meaning any disrespect to anyone, that is bravery arguably greater than some VC winners who died... He earned that medal, and should not be subject to some arbitary ruling that he's not allowed it because he happened - by pure good fortune - to survive.
 
#5
BiscuitsAB said:
Biscuits_AB said:
That article truly makes you think about what each VC winner went through and in the most recent case, is going through.

There needs to be more done to recognise the points brought up. I enjoyed reading the article for what it was.
I find myself in total agreement.
What? Agreeing with yourself?

Very confusing. :\\ :scratch:
 
B

Biscuits_AB

Guest
#7
civvygit said:
BiscuitsAB said:
Biscuits_AB said:
That article truly makes you think about what each VC winner went through and in the most recent case, is going through.

There needs to be more done to recognise the points brought up. I enjoyed reading the article for what it was.
I find myself in total agreement.
What? Agreeing with yourself?

Very confusing. :\\ :scratch:
Just go with the flow.
 
#9
In the forces we value the VC for what it represents. We often stand in awe of the man who has done something which demonstrates the values which we all admire. We hope that if we had been in the situation in which the VC was earned (I don't believe you win it) we would have been up to the challenge the holder faced. The recipient of the VC however is set apart. When was the last time there was a living serving holder of the award? I think Johnson Beharry has been promoted now but I just can't get my mind around him being Guard 2IC or being bollocked by his Pl Sgt for fcuking up on some trivial matter. Everything has changed for him because of that small piece of bronze hanging on his chest. He can never be treated the same as he was before the award of this honour. It says more about us than it ever will about him so I have to agree with Max Hastings on this matter.
 
#10
This is a classic Max Hasting article.

He has the eye and understanding of a service person and the ability to look not only into the case in point but also how that case has been handled in the past with the added value of disticnt pointers to the future.

At times i feel "We" look after the dead more then we care for the living.

Hastings has a point, as ever, time will be the only judge of how it is addressed.
 
#11
I really enjoyed that article as it makes you look at the VC in a totally new light.

Maybe one of the reasons the VC winners find it hard to go on after is because they have been through such trauma, stress and grief that all they want to do is go back to normality and every day army life again.
Does this again raises the issue of after care for soldiers who have experienced situations which are truly horrendous? How can you consolidate being given the VC and live with that happily, when you are still feel guilt and grief for being a survivor???
 
#12
A very intresting pieace by Max Hastings. I never really thought the VC could bring so much unhappiness .
The thing is with L/Cpl Beharry is if he does return to full operational fitness, (I hope he does) l don't think the CO would be to happy to put him back in harms way again. Loosing a soldier on operations is a horrible thought, but to loose the only VC winner this nation has got that is still serving.........
Anyway how would his section commander and above approach him to do things on exercise or on operations?






before some men make decisions about whether to stay in an Army by which they are disgracefully, monstrously underpaid.
How bloody true!
 
#13
petite_butsweet said:
I really enjoyed that article as it makes you look at the VC in a totally new light.

Maybe one of the reasons the VC winners find it hard to go on after is because they have been through such trauma, stress and grief that all they want to do is go back to normality and every day army life again.
Does this again raises the issue of after care for soldiers who have experienced situations which are truly horrendous? How can you consolidate being given the VC and live with that happily, when you are still feel guilt and grief for being a survivor???
Some people cope very well indeed. I worked in close proximity to Sir Tasker Watkins whilst he was still sitting as a Lord of Appeal. He obviously suffered no problems whatsoever and went on after the war to pursue a very long and successful career. Perhaps the difference between him and Johnson Beharry is that Tasker Watkins was already forging a career before it was put on hold due of the War and thus, had a life to continue with afterwards. Johnson Beharry on the other hand, picked the army as his chosen career at a young age and now because of his heroism and resulting wounds that career is in doubt? What he needs is people around him who care for him and will look out for him

I disagree with Max Hastings. I believe that the Victoria Cross must always be there as the reward for acts courage of the highest order to all who earn it living or dead. I know when Tasker wore his VC at the Opening of the Legal Year, it certainly got everyone’s attention! Johnson Beharry is now a living legend, far better that than a dead one. Not many of these extraordinary people are alive!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasker_Watkins
 
#16
petite_butsweet said:
"He obviously suffered no problems whatsoever" ???? :?

Who knows what goes on behind closed doors.
He has lived in the public glare for many, many years doing an extremely demanding job. That is fact!
 
#17
Baffled by his own courage

Johnson Beharry was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in Iraq. He tells Giles Hattersley how a tough Caribbean childhood and an escape from drugs made him an unlikely military hero

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2382601,00.html


I thought that I would post in this thread. Hope that’s OK?

Good luck to the young man he deserves all the good things and more that his heroism may bring his way.
 

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