Veteran will defy Foreign Office ban

A BRAVE Suffolk veteran who will receive two prestigious medals for service in Asia next month has told the EADT how he intends to defy a Foreign Office ban and wear them with pride.

By Danielle Nuttall

A BRAVE Suffolk veteran who will receive two prestigious medals for service in Asia next month has told the EADT how he intends to defy a Foreign Office ban and wear them with pride.

Former RAF serviceman John Cooper is to receive the Pingat Jasa Malaysia (PJM) in Castle Park, Colchester, on October 1 for his service to Malaysia in 1958, during a period known as the Malayan Emergency.

The 67-year-old, from Kesgrave, will also pick up a posthumous medal for his father, Joseph Cooper, who served at the same time.

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But archaic British laws, dating back more than 100 years, have prompted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to deny the war heroes the right to wear their medals.

The Government recently backed down from rules banning the acceptance of foreign medals. But the

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Foreign Office's Grant of Honours and Decorations Committee has held back from granting veterans permission to wear them.

Mr Cooper, who has two grandchildren, is furious with the decision and has pledged to wear both medals the moment they are presented.

What has incensed the veteran even more is the fact that Commonwealth soldiers in Australia and New Zealand, who also served with them, can wear the honour.

The former Port of Felixstowe worker is among eight veterans who have set up a campaign to persuade the Government to overturn the decision. This has included a petition to the Queen as well as lobbying of MPs.

“You have to ask the question why? No one seems to know, only it is part of our history and heritage,” said Mr Cooper.

“We in this country are so set in our ways. Tradition has it we still present the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The Empire collapsed 30 years ago.

“The Malaysian government has now recognised the so-called bravery of a lot of people that didn't actually return from that war - 519 of my colleagues never returned. They had to wade through jungle, swamps, snakes and heat and all the dysentery.

“Why should they do this to our fallen comrades? It's disrespectful for us not to wear them.”

Mr Cooper said the Government had confirmed no action will be taken against those veterans who do choose to wear their medals, but he said it was not the point. It was a matter of pride, he added.

“It's like saying the speed limit is 30mph but if you do 31mph we will not police you for it but technically you are breaking the law,” he said.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “The Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals has recommended that an exception to two of the long-established rules governing the accepting and wearing of foreign awards be made, to enable the Malaysian Government to present the PJM. Her Majesty the Queen has been graciously pleased to approve this recommendation.

“Permission to wear the PJM will not, however, formally be given. It is long standing Government policy that non-British medals will not be approved for events or service that: took place more than five years before initial consideration, or in connection with events that took place in the distant past (e.g. commemorative medals); if the recipient has received a British award for the same service.

“However, Her Majesty's Government welcome, and believe it is important to recognise, the generous gesture by the King and Government of Malaysia, and their wish to acknowledge the service given by veterans and others in the years immediately after Malaysian independence.”

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