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William (72) gets his Suez Medal: half a century later

THE GENERAL SERVICE Medal has been awarded to local man William Hannah - for his war efforts more than 50 years ago.

William Hannah proudly displays his long-awaited General Service Medal. William (72), from Castle Kennedy, said he had given up hope of receiving the honour for his operations as a gunner in Egypt defending the Suez Canal between 1951 and 1952.

But in March, after a long campaign from the Suez Veterans' Association and the Canal Zoners, William became one of the survivors of the conflict to receive his award.

" To be honest it was a complete surprise," he said. "With so much time having passed you just feel like you've been forgotten about."

The Ministry of Defence finally consented to giving out the honours, having previously refused, as they did not recognise the Suez Canal Zone Emergency as a full-blown conflict.

It lasted from 1951 to 1956 as the British and French defended their military base - with its £100 million worth of equipment left over from the Second World War - from the Egyptian government.

At the height of the troubles, 80,000 troops were stationed in the region and 600 were killed, with terrorist attacks from the Fedayeen one of the main threats.

William was just 18 when he was sent to Tripoli in 1951, having begun his National Service the year before. In May of that year he was posted to Fayid in Suez.

He admits that safety was always a concern and that he and his fellow officers were often "sitting ducks." He said:

"One of my clearest memories is always having a gun with me - even sitting in the local picture house I'd have my Sten gun between my knees.

" From time to time there would be what we called a 'flap', when the Egyptians would come at us, so we had to be ready all the time.

" It was a very stressful experience and one boy I knew lost his mind and had to be sent home, it was all too much for him."

William, who plans to one day pass on his medal to his son Kenneth, says that the return home is still fresh in his mind.

" When we landed in Britain everything was green. After seeing nothing but desert sand for a year and a half it was like a fairytale."

William said he had long given up hope of receiving a medal until he came across a fellow Suez veteran two years ago, after spotting his advert on the Teletext page, 'Service Pals.'

Although he does not remember meeting Brian 'Sandy' Sanderson while he was at Suez, they have kept up regular correspondence over the past months.

" These medals have been a long time coming and even now it will be a couple of years before everyone gets one," said Sandy, who received his award in January.

" The Government insisted that Suez was not a war but a skirmish before they relented and said it was active service.

" This is despite the fact that General Service Medals were given to those who served in Cyprus, Malaya and Korea.

" The reason the Government were so reluctant over Suez is because they didn't want to upset the Egyptian government and the tourist industry."

Sandy has visited Suez since the conflict and says the number of graves show the sacrifice made by the British troops. He is planning a further visit to Egypt in May, but William does not have any plans to accompany him on the trip.

Having worked in and around Stranraer in the 50 years since he has returned from the Middle East, he is quite happy to enjoy his retirement at home.

" When you get to my time of life it's nice to be able to put your feet up," he said. "I've done as much travelling as I need to."

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