RAF Odiham News

For Those Who Served: Corporal Ekins

a range of service medals
A new Ministry of Defence policy will allow former Armed Forces personnel who were dismissed from service on the basis of their sexuality to apply to have their medals restored.

Last year we took great pride in celebrating 20 years since the ban on Homosexuals serving in the Armed Forces was lifted. The celebrations and media coverage marking this significant historic event resonated across all three services around the country. A range of defence buildings were lit up in rainbow colours to mark the anniversary, including Edinburgh Castle, RAF Odiham Gate Guardian and Defence Headquarters. I believe this show of positive progression has accelerated the rate at which LGBT+ equality is becoming the norm in HM Armed Forces.

With that in mind, I am confident that everyone who is part of the various Tri-Service LGBT+ Networks and their civilian counterparts, will have been delighted to hear the recent announcement by Rt Hon Johnny Mercer, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and Veterans, that thousands of British military personnel who were dismissed on grounds of homosexuality will be able to have their service medals restored where they had been stripped away when they were dismissed from the armed forces. Statistics show that approximately 200 to 250 personnel were dismissed each year because of their sexuality, and frequently had their service medals removed. The ban wrecked lives. People stepped forward for the privilege of military service and were hunted down, arrested, sent to prison and dismissed in disgrace. In some cases, medals were cut off with a pair of scissors. This announcement, coupled with the lifting of the ban 21 years ago, shows a real commitment by the Government and HM Armed Forces to restore the honour and dignity lost by those who were dismissed before the ban was lifted. 

A prime example of the pre-2000 dismissals, is the case of Senior Aircraftsman (SAC) Carl Austin, now known as Carl Jason Austin-Behan OBE:

Carl joined the RAF on 2 April 1991. Following successful completion of basic trade training at RAF Swinderby, and basic Fireman training at RAF Manston. He was posted to RAF Chivenor In May 1992. 

A Citation of Carl’s heroic events the following year are awe-inspiring and is as follows:

“On 30 September 1992, SAC Austin was a member of a 7-person Crash/Rescue team at RAF Chivenor. At 11:50am, an armed hawk aircraft crashed on the westerly threshold of the main runway. One pilot had ejected but the other remained trapped in the burning wreckage. SAC Austin and the crew arrived at the scene within 2 minutes of the alert being sounded. As a member of the immediate rescue team of 3, Austin knowing the aircraft to be armed with cannon ammunition and bombs, completely disregarded his own safety and entered the area surrounding the cockpit, which was still thick with flame and dense acrid smoke, in order to assist with the pilot’s rescue. Once the rear canopy had been blown to gain access to the cockpit, Austin climbed onto the top of the fuselage and succeeded in lifting out the unconscious pilot. Temperatures were in the region of 650°C at the height of the fire and Austin ran the risk of receiving serious personal burns.

Throughout the incident SAC Austin displayed exceptionally high levels of courage, professionalism and determination in such a life-threatening situation. His unselfish actions ensured that he played a full part in preventing a pilot from dying in the burning wreckage of his aircraft.”

For his actions in February 1993 Austin was awarded the Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal for his efforts in saving a member of aircrew from the burning wreckage.

Fast forward a few years, and on 15 April 1997, Carl was called into a meeting with senior RAF staff and the RAF police. In the six years of service, he had dedicated his life to the RAF, had been mentioned in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list and in 1993, was recognised for his act of heroism. This meeting, however, was not to applaud him for his continued contribution to the armed forces, it was to begin dismissal proceedings for having been identified as a homosexual by a member of the public. Carl was stripped of his medals and given an hour to pack up his belongings, before he was escorted from MoD property. Military personnel found to be gay could be sent to jail for up to six months. Carl avoided this conviction due to his exemplary service record, and instead was suspended from the RAF with immediate effect.

In 2001, he was awarded the title of ‘Mr Gay UK’, and then years later, in 2011, he was elected the Labour councillor for Burnage. In May 2016, a year after his marriage to his partner Simon, Carl became the first openly gay Lord Mayor of Manchester. In 2019 New Year’s Honours Carl was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). 

The announcement by Rt Hon Johnny Mercer, means Carl will now be able to reclaim his Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal, awarded to him after rescuing a pilot from a burning aircraft in 1992. A medal that he undoubtedly deserves to wear with pride.

This story sends such a strong message; yet the fact that Carl had served in office as the Lord Mayor of Greater Manchester and been appointed OBE before he could wear his medal once again, means there is more to be done, and we must tackle issues not just of today and tomorrow but of yesterday also.

Today, our Armed Forces are the most inclusive in the world. We take pride in all who serve regardless of their sexuality. In stark contrast, in the 21 years since the ban was lifted, nothing has changed for some LGBT+ veterans, many of whom have criminal records, face housing, health and financial problems and have been neglected by organisations that have a duty under the Armed Forces covenant to be inclusive.  

We hope that this is the beginning of a long overdue return of LGBT+ veterans to the military family and the protections of the Armed Forces Covenant. I hope that support comes quickly to a part of our veteran community who were treated unfairly.    

Guidance on the restoration of Military Medals to personnel discharged on the basis of their sexuality.

RAF Odiham Chinook Gate Guardian illuminated in Pride colours to support LGBT+ History Month 2021. Pictured: Station Commander (left), Corporal Farren Ekins (centre), Station Warrant Officer (right). 
RAF Odiham Chinook Gate Guardian illuminated in Pride colours to support LGBT+ History Month 2021. Pictured: Station Commander (left), Corporal Farren Ekins (centre), Station Warrant Officer (right). 


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