Musing from the Museum 28


By Alastair Goodrum

As a country, Iraq has been in a state of flux for more than a century. Formerly a loose association of three provinces in part of the Turkish/Ottoman Empire, after the First World War Britain was given a Mandate by the League of Nations to unite the provinces, govern and create a unified state of Iraq. However, the tribes of the Kurdistan region in the north of Iraq have long claimed that they deserve to be recognised as an independent, self-governing state and have been quite prepared to take up arms on many occasions in pursuit of their aim.

  Among the large and fascinating collection of militarymedals held by the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, is a group to 365540 Flight Sergeant C. D. King of the Royal Air Force. It comprises five medals, two of which have an interesting story attached to them from this part of the world.

General Service Medal (George V, 1918 – 1962 version) with clasp: Northern Kurdistan.

Defence Medal 1939-45 (George VI).

War Medal. 1939-45 (George VI).

RAF Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (George VI).

Iraq Active Service Medal. (aka King Faisal war medal) with clasp – possibly for South Kurdistan 1931.

Charles King’s medals on loan to the Society’s collection.GSM on the left and Faisal Medal on right.

It was as a Leading Aircraftman (LAC) serving with No. 70 Squadron RAF, that Charles King was awarded the General Service Medal (GSM) with a bar for specific service in Northern Kurdistan. It is not known precisely what duties LAC King performed in Iraq, but it is believed he was a mechanic engaged on the maintenance and servicing of the Vickers Victoria aircraft operated by 70 Squadron.

  The GSM with a Northern Kurdistan clasp was awarded tojust 65 British officers and 280 other ranks – almost entirelyfrom the Royal Air Force – who were involved in air operations and spent time in a carefully delineated area of Northern Iraq, between the dates 15 March and 21 June 1932.No British Army units were involved in this campaign and only a handful of British Army officers and other ranks are known to have qualified as a result of being attached as advisers to the Iraqi Army. The GSM issued for this Northern Kurdistan campaign is the only version of the GSM medal that displays an image of King George V as a crowned and robed bust. Thus, due to the small number issued and the design feature, the medal on display in the Museum is relatively rare.

  LAC King also received the Iraq Active Service Medal, an Iraqi medal awarded for service in the field in Iraq between 1926 and 1938. His IASM has a clasp, which may relate to service in Southern Kurdistan in 1931. The IASM was instituted by King Faisal I in 1926 and was awarded without a clasp up to 1929, after which it was awarded with a clasp dated for one of four campaigns in Iraq during the 1930s. This foreign award, believed to be the only one of its kind in the Society’s collection, is sometimes referred to as the King Faisal War Medal. Although it was a medal issued by a foreign state, British service personnel were authorised to wear the medal and its ribbon, alongside their British awards.The British government, however, did not authorise it to be worn by a serviceman who had already qualified for the British GSM for a specific campaign, e.g as in the case of LAC King for Northern Kurdistan. This indicates that his two medals were awarded for different phases of the insurrection by the Barzanis. The Arabic date on the IASM clasp suggestsit relates to the 1930-1931 offensive in Southern Kurdistanthat was supported by the RAF.

RAF campaigns are located around the letters ‘I; S & T’ of ‘Kurdistan’ on this map.

  Northern Iraq borders Syria, Turkey and Iran and the Iraqi Kurdish region lies in the Northern Iraq provinces of Sulamaniyah, Arbil and Dahuk. This short campaign was conducted in an area of North Iraq delineated by the towns of Diana (now Soran) – Erbil – Aqra – Suri (now Siriye) and a line due north to the Turkish frontier. The RAF was tasked to provide air support to the newly-independent Iraqi government Army, which was engaged in quelling an uprising led by Sheik Ahmed of Barzan. British air support took the form of reconnaissance missions; troop transport; bombing operations; leaflet-dropping and propaganda broadcasting and the RAF units involved were Nos. 30, 55 and 70 Squadrons.