The Honours System

I think everyone agrees the ongoing ‘cash for honours’ charade is a national disgrace. My fear is that those guilty of minimalising the importance and status of the honours system will walk away scot free. As things stand, I can see Lord Levy ending up as the fall guy, yet I cannot imagine him offering entry to the House of Lords or a knighthood in return for a suitable contribution unless it had been suggested by a higher authority who had authorised him to do so.

The sad and annoying thing for me is, that certain persons have evidently been able to purchase their honour, whilst other more deserving persons have either been awarded minimal low ranking honours, or have been overlooked completely.

Example. On returning from his 25th mission in 1940, Sergeant Pilot Jimmy ‘Dixie’ Deans crash landed his stricken Whitley bomber on the Dutch-German border, all his crew were saved and along with Dixie they spent the rest of WWII as PoW’s.

It was as a PoW that Dixie really came into his own. At Stalag Luft III, camp of both the Wooden Horse and the Great Escape, Dixie was elected Man of Confidence and duly began his administrative duties which entailed, amongst other things, holding weekly meetings with the German commandant on behalf of both officers and other ranks.

Dixie had no intention of simply sitting the war out as a PoW. He assisted one prisoner in escaping so that a chain of outside contacts could be built up to assist later escapers. Although moved to various camps and continually elected to a position of trust Dixie went about his work. He organised and hid a secret radio set which allowed him to communicate with London, advising such information as the thickness of armour and the dimensions of the new Tiger tank, also the rocket sites and factories at Peenemunde. At one time Dixie controlled no less than 7 million cigarettes, used for bartering and bribing German guards. It is said that with the slightest gesture or a snapped command Dixie’s status was such that he could bring an unruly PoW rabble to parade readiness at appel.

It was Sergeant Dixie Deans who stood fast and refused to allow Jewish RAF PoW’s to be segregated, even when he was confronted and physically attacked by a visting Gestapo officer.

Near the end of WWII the German command ordered that all PoW’s were to be moved west towards the Allied lines and away from the advancing Russians. The journey west began and Dixie found himself overseeing the wellbeing of 12,000 RAF PoWs split into three vast marching columns. To assist him in his duties Dixie rode and old battered bicycle. During the march Dixie bullied the German colonel commanding the columns into providing the PoW’s with food and shelter at night, some form of transport for the sick, and when the column was mistakenly attacked by RAF Typhoons and 60 PoW’s were killed, Dixie organised the burials and grave markers.

Realising that his charges were weary and some were ill, Dixie suggested he be allowed to venture forth through the German front line so as to warn the Allies of the columns of PoW’s. The German commander agreed and Dixie set off on his extremely dangerous mission. It’s just as well he succeeded as on arrival at the British front line he was able to stop another Typhoon attack had been planned for that very day.

Not content with being safely behind British lines, Dixie demanded he be permitted to return through the German lines to see his PoW charges back to safety and, much to the amusement of his fellow PoW’s he returned in a captured German Mercedes staff car. It was on his return that the German colonel offered Dixie his surrender.

Some years after the war it was decided to form what is known as The Royal Air Force Ex Prisoners of War Association and Dixie was elected its Life President. Jimmy ‘Dixie’ Deans was awarded a lowly MBE. On his death, Dixie’s obituary in the Observer and Telegraph took up well over half a page……so much press coverage for an RAF sergeant pilot who it was found had been suffering the initial stages of MS when captured and who should never have been flying!

To read about the exploits of J A G Deans I refer you to the following books:

The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan, No Flight From The Cage by Cal Younger, The Last Escape by John Nichol and Tony Rennell, and MI9 – Escape & Evasion 1939-45 by M R D Foot & J M Langley.

I find it amazing that knighthoods and CBE’s have been doled out to entertainers and others whilst the likes of J A G ‘Dixie’ Deans only received an MBE.



3 Responses to “The Honours System”

  1. Sgitheanaich Says:

    Such tales of heroism are dishonoured by the so called Honours system today. Anything that can be bought so cheaply with money is devalued when it previously was bought with courage, valour and even life. Writing about war is something I cannot do, I wasn’t there. A lifetime’s education and emotional appreciation cannot ever actually understand what was done for us.

    Perhaps those in high office now, of an age to remember, should stand in shame at how this system has been allow to evolve. Perhaps it is also partly a fault that the younger generation with far less appreciation of the nature of heroism cannot apportion suitable value to the contribution of those honoured recipients. Personally, I’d argue that they ought to have been better taught.

    Perhaps in this age of information overload, it is a more suitable record for such a man as Dixie that fitting tribute be paid in text, that his story be preserved. Honours were newsworthy once, now catching any headline time is hard work and easily lost. In a few generations, I’d expect the Honours system will have become only memory, but testimony to valour, written by the likes of Prof. M.R.D. Foot will find their deserved place in history with appropriate gravitas. Respect of one’s peers is timeless and arguably finer tribute than a symbolic honour who’s meaning can dissipate in time.

    (By the way, M.R.D. Foot’s book, on the inception, evolution and remit of the S.O.E. is most highly recommended reading.)


  2. prostar Says:

    Hi Helena….again,

    If you are even in the slightest way interested in the day to day life and activities of SOE agents in the field, may I suggest reading Maquis by the late George Millar, the best book on the subject I’ve ever read!

    Regards, Prostar

  3. Kelly Says:

    Little late but what’s the big hoohoo. Back in the early 70’s when I first became aware of the honours system, it was even then assumed that if you gave half a million to the conservatives/labour, whoever was in power, it didn’t matter, and 100,000 to the rspcc, you would get some kind of gong, probably an OBE, for your meritorious services to children. (money was worth more in those days)
    If you just gave the 100,000 to the rspcc, you -might- get a BEM.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: