The Bill and Angela Strong Medal Collection
Brigadier W.E. Strong, C St J
I tried everything from chartered accountancy through to jazz drumming without any discernable success, so in desperation I joined the Army in 1963. Initially I wanted to be in the Intelligence Corps but failed entry twice; actually one could argue that was my first success as you’re normally only allowed to fail once. Realising the infantry could be hazardous and particularly wearing on the feet I found the regiment furthest away from the front line, becoming a gunner, which some describe as sappers with humour (but I can’t understand why). My career was more noteworthy for its longevity. I avoided the three deadly sins: don’t run off with the CO’s wife, lose a secret document or fiddle a travel claim and I soldiered on until medical discharge in 1999.
My first posting to BAOR then led to the UK. I avoided Kuching in Sarawak as the confrontation would be over before getting there, persuading Denis Healey (yes, really, although he did make it clear via my CO and many extra orderly officer’s duties you could only get away with writing direct to the Defence Minister as a 2/Lt once) to let me go on secondment to Aden. Spending much of my time in Beihan, East Aden Protectorate, with the South Arabian Army until Independence in 1967, I then joined 3/RHA in BAOR, which included a fascinating three months in Libya. Three years in the UK learning to be an Instructor in Gunnery and testing various potential weapon systems in turn then found me in Catterick before starting tours of Northern Ireland, such a feature of my generation. I also went to Dhofar in 1972 as part of Cracker Battery and was lucky enough to be on duty when the action of Mirbat took place, which one could reasonably argue if it had been lost, so would Oman. Back to Catterick and the M62 coach bomb came just as I was adjutant, organising the arms plot move to Munsterlager – it was difficult to know who were casualties and who had only missed the planes or ships.
Much to my surprise I was selected for Staff College and then I was sent to our Embassy in Washington in 1977. ‘Twas there I fell under the benign influence of Harry Bendorf and his US medal collecting friends, friendships which survive to this day. Indeed I started collecting in 1963 when invited to a drink (along with other cadets) with the then Deputy Commandant of Mons Officer Cadet School, Col. Bowen, and he showed me drawers of what I came to realise were MGS and Waterloo medals – my first purchase was a Waterloo at £16, when pay as a cadet was just under £5 a week. But I digress... to BAOR to command 170 Imjin Battery supporting the Glosters, commanded by the then CO Robin Grist (son of Col. Carne’s 2IC). After a spell as 2IC I went to my only London posting, Stanmore in the Military Secretary’s Department, before becoming an instructor at Shrivenham and then a TA command in Wales. Then, avoiding three years in Belize (Belmopan) mainly because the guy I was to succeed sent me a photo of himself with a boa constrictor round his neck, I managed to go to Canada (to where most of my family had previously emigrated). Happy times here in two locations, one in the High Commission and the other in the Canadian National Defence HQ as SO1 Standardisation Australia, Britain, Canada, America (ABCA, known by us all as All Blooming Changed Again or words to that effect), so one could always be unobtainable in ‘the other office’ should real work appear over the horizon.
Back in England, I commanded a Weapons Establishment in Shoeburyness, Essex, where you could indulge yourself as a pyromaniac to your heart’s content. Interestingly enough, this now being 1989, we still used Kitchener’s railway coach from the Sudan to get around the various locations on Foulness Island and also a V1 rocket ramp (horizontally) for small arms tests. A copy of the Atlantic Wall, which we had to defeat for the Normandy landings, was built there in 1943/4 so we could work out how to attack it and it remains there still. My tour was interrupted by a summons to General Sir Peter de la Billière’s new HQ in Saudi Arabia (I had served under him before), as ACOS Support, responsible for logistics and personnel matters. Of many memories two in particular stick in my mind; one, trying to protect our missing Army and RAF personnel without giving away too much of what and/or who they were, negotiating their release, identifying them and delivering both the survivors and the deceased back to the UK; and trying to get some particularly sensitive stores into the Kingdom, wine for Communion, which eventually came out addressed to me as heavenly lubricant.
My penultimate tour was in the Outer Hebrides, a well-kept secret if ever there was one, and it was always a pleasure to take visitors to St Kilda, a fascinating block of islands still with the gun placed there to protect the Bay from attack following the U-boat shelling which took place in 1917. After brushing up my Arabic I finished my service based in Saudi Arabia, with various duties including Bahrein and the Yemen. The Yemen, or more accurately the Aden part of it, was where I met my wife Angela in 1966 when she visited her Father who was stationed out there and ‘house sitting’ for the then Col. John Slim, so it was nice to go back to places we had known some 30 years previously. She is the sixth generation to Follow the Drum when her family, Irish chieftains of old, decided to join the British Army. You will see them further identified within the catalogue.
Why sell medals, particularly family ones? For the same reason as another great friend of many years standing, Ron Penhall, did. To allow others to have the pleasure we have had as temporary custodians of these marvellous mementos of service and bravery. Additionally, as we have no children, we feel future generations of collectors will be preserving careers and lives of people who would otherwise likely be totally forgotten. Finally, I would like to place on record my friendship with Ron Barden, who took me under his wing at Baldwin’s in 1964 and acted as my mentor until his untimely death in January 2005. As you will see from the wide range of campaigns represented here, I learned never to say no to whatever he suggested.