The recent case of Roger Day, the bogus war hero who turned up at a Remembrance Day parade wearing an unlikely 17 medals, has brought the protocol for wearing medals and other awards into question.
The Army Act (1955) makes it illegal to impersonate a member of the armed forces. The act makes wearing any military decoration, badge or other insignia without authority a criminal offence. The idea is, that by wearing them, you are deceiving people into thinking you are someone that you are not. This has been done by people trying to collect for bogus charities, or to get sympathy.
The Army act also makes it illegal for servicemen to sell their medals whilst they are still serving. They are still Government property all the time their bearer is serving, only upon their discharge or death do they become theirs or their kins property. There is a thriving trade in military memorabilia, but it is one thing to buy medals to mount in a display case, but quite another to wear them as if you earnt them. Day’s medals were purchased for him by his younger wife, after he claimed that his original medals had been lost in action or sold.
But it is more than a legal issue, respect comes into it too. Surely anyone with any sense will feel that to wear something that you haven’t earned is disrespectful to the people who have earnt it. The same goes for things such as Parachute Wings and Commando Daggers – if you didn’t earn them, don’t wear them. If you feel the need to lie to people and pretend to be something that you’re not, then maybe it might be an idea to go and have a chat with your doctor and see if they can refer you for professional help.
I must admit I feel pretty disheartened when I see celebrities wearing military style costumes: Michael Jackson had a knack for doing that, at one court appearance he turned up wearing a Royal Corps of Transport badge on his jacket. Illegal: no, disrespectful: probably not intentionally, but disappointing: sadly, yes. I cannot help but feel that it trivialises the men and women who serve and die wearing those badges.
It is difficult to know where to draw the line, however. I have in the past wondered whether it is acceptable to wear a maroon ‘Arnhem 60th anniversary’ t-shirt when visiting Arnhem. I know that some Airborne guys can be very protective of anything maroon. But the way I think is, my Grandad was a para: hes no longer around to wear it, so I wear it on his behalf. Its not a Paras t-shirt per se, its clearly about the 60th Anniversary, that I went to. I’m obviously not a Para or trying to impersonate one. If anyone were to mention that they think it is inappropriate, I would take it off without hesitation.