No medals for Scots squadron who came under fire

1
Have your say

A SQUADRON of Scots Army Reservists – who were the first Territorial Army unit to see action after the Second World War – are being denied a medal for fighting.

More than 350 soldiers – including many from Edinburgh – of 131 Parachute Engineer Regiment were sent to Yemen to complete a number of tasks including road construction in April 1965.

But the 300 Parachute Sqn Royal Engineers came under intense gunfire and heavy mortar attack by dissidents towards the end of their two-week annual training camp.

One of their number was killed and another two wounded.

But army top brass have refused to award them a campaign medal as the criteria requires 30 days of service in a theatre of war.

The soldiers were carrying out work on a main road from Aden to Dhala when they found themselves locked in a major firefight with rebels near the village of Al-Milah.

During the battle, Squadron Sergeant Major John Lonergan, from Glasgow, of 300 Parachute Squadron was killed.

Sergeant Cyril Atfield, of the Royal Army Pay Corps, also lost his life.

Captain Eoghann Maclachlainn, from the Isle of Mull, and Sergeant Gibson Earl, from Edinburgh, both of 300 Parachute Squadron, were among five others wounded.

Those who were killed and injured are entitled to receive the General Service Medal with clasp South Arabia, which was awarded to other members of the armed forces in Yemen at that time.

However, the remaining unit members are ineligible, despite playing key roles in the battle as they only spent 15 days in Yemen.

Staff Sgt John Donaldson, 76, from Bonnyrigg, who served with John Lonergan and shared a tent with him on the night he was shot, is spearheading the campaign for the unit to be honoured.

He said: “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.”

Recalling the events of the night when the fighting broke out around them, he said: “It was around 12.15am when the camp was attacked by dissidents using machine guns, together with rifles and rocket launchers.

“The incoming fire was coming from a nearby ridge and was prolonged, considerable and concentrated on the officers and sergeants lines.”

However, in a letter to Mr Donaldson, Army Major General RMB Nitsch CBE has said the “judgment of the authorities at the time was that the qualifying period in theatre was to be 30 days”.

He added: “As you and other members of the squadron were only deployed for the period of your annual training for 15 days, you are ineligible for the medal and therefore cannot qualify for the award.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “We carefully consider every request to recognise our brave men and women’s extraordinary accomplishments, for which we are extremely grateful.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com