Upminster veteran to present medals to troops

An Upminster army veteran will be given the honour of presenting medals to troops from his old regiment on their return from Afghanistan later this month.

Ken Hay, 87, of River Drive, will award the Operation Service Medal for Afghanistan to the Essex Company of The 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment.

The presentation ceremony, held at Buford Camp in Wiltshire on November 1, marks the end of the regiment’s fourth and final tour of Afghanistan.

“I am thrilled to bits to have been invited to do this. I regard it as a complete honour and a privilege,” said Ken.

“I am looking forward to the occasion. I will be wearing my own medals whilst handing out new ones.”

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The Battalion have been deployed in the Helmand province of Afghanistan for the past six months and will be returning home throughout October.

Since first being sent to the country in 2002, a total of 16 soldiers from the Battalion have been killed, including one man on the latest tour.

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Ken is full of praise for the troops serving abroad, explaining how dedicated and skilled they are.

“I can’t speak highly enough of their brilliance,” he said.

“I think they are doing a fine job. You can argue over the politics of whether they should be over there or not, but that is nothing to do with them. They are excellent professional soldiers.”

During his own army days Ken served in the Essex Regiment, a predecessor to the Battalion, in the 1940s.

He fought in World War II as a 1st reinforcement in the Normandy landings but was soon captured by the Germans while on night patrol behind enemy lines.

On January 23 in 1945 Ken was involved in the ‘Long March to Freedom’, in which 80,000 prisoners from Nazi camps were forced to walk over 1,000 miles.

They marched in freezing temperatures until they were liberated just south of Berlin by the Russian army on April 20 1945.

“It was dreadful for everybody. It was bitterly cold. We started walking when it was -26C, and many of the men had dysentery and frostbite,” said Ken.

“I was 19 at the time and perhaps not fully prepared for it. We certainly didn’t have as much training as the guys out in Afghanistan now. In comparison, they are absolute professionals and know it all.”

After the medal service, the Royal Anglians will parade through Romford on November 6 to celebrate their homecoming.

They will start off at Arcade Place, march through South Street and finish at Romford Market.

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