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Afghanistan or Iraq? Military Decorations of Captain John H. Watson

Afghanistan or Iraq? Military Decorations of Captain John H. Watson

“Which was it – Afghanistan or Iraq?”

– A Study In Pink

A Study In Pink
“Which was it – Afghanistan or Iraq?”

When the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) premiered their new series of Sherlock in July of 2010, devoted Sherlockians watched to see how the writers would take items from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories and update these items to the modern day. I was one of those watching the first episode and I was not disappointed.

The first episode of the series, titled A Study In Pink, obviously paid homage to the first of Sir Arthur’s stories, A Study In Scarlet or STUD. For the opening scene, the writers have John Watson waking up in bed, having flashbacks to his military service in Afghanistan. He is back in England and recuperating from his wounds.

After a few minutes of scenes that set the basis for the crimes in this episode, we then have John Watson meeting up with Mike Stamford, although not at the Criterion Bar, and the conversation turns to Watson possibly sharing a flat with someone. Stamford takes John Watson to the labs at St. Bart’s to introduce John to Sherlock Holmes.

In Doyle’s original story, Holmes first words to Watson are “How are you?” with a handshake and then a follow up statement of “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”

In the television episode, Sherlock thanks John for loaning his cell phone to send a text message and follows up with the question of “Which was it – Afghanistan or Iraq?”

It is ironic that the United Kingdom was engaged in two military actions at the time that the stories were updated to and that they would be back in Afghanistan, as was the case in the original STUD story. The writers have updated the ranks of the doctors, upgrading Watson from an assistant surgeon with no rank to the now modern Captain John H. Watson.

Let’s take a look at the campaign decorations that the modern day Watson has earned, based on gleanings from the ten episodes to date.

Operational Service Medal

By virtue of his service of thirty days or more in Afghanistan, John has earned the Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan. The 36 millimeter silver medal is suspended from a 32 millimeter ribbon with a broad central red stripe, flanked on each side by a stripe of royal blue and one of light blue (these three colors representing the three different services), with an outer stripe of light brown to reflect the Afghanistan landscape.

The obverse of the medal features the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. The reverse has the Union Flag, surrounded by the inscription FOR OPERATIONAL SERVICE and the 4 major points of the compass, with 4 Coronets: (Clockwise, from top right) Naval, Mural Army, Astral Royal Air Force and Royal.

The Operational Service Medal was established in 2000 and medals have been awarded for Afghanistan, Congo and Sierra Leone. While the medals are identical, the ribbons are different for each conflict area.

The Bloody Guardsman, from The Sign of Three

Skipping ahead to the second episode of the third season of Sherlock, titled The Sign of Three, Sherlock is telling the tale of The Bloody Guardsman during his speech as Best Man for John’s wedding. A British soldier is apparently stabbed in a locked shower stall. The commanding officer has soldiers holding back Sherlock and John from examining the body, thinking they are responsible for the attack on the officer.

In that scene, John screams at the commanding officer to examine the body, “Major, please. I’m John Watson, Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. Three years in Afghanistan, a veteran of Kandahar, Helmand, and Bart’s bloody Hospital. Let me examine this body.” Finally, the commander relents and the two are allowed to examine the body and discover that the soldier is still alive.

That scene gives us confirmation that John was entitled to the just discussed Operational Service Medal. It also tells us that John qualified to earn the Accumulated Campaign Service Medal.

Accumulated Service Campaign Medal

The Accumulated Campaign Medal is awarded after 1,080 days in a specific theater of military action – in other words, 3 years. In order to qualify for this award, the recipient must have already earned the Operational Service Medal. In 2011, the requirement for the number of days was reduced from 1,080 to 720 days, 2 years of service.

The 36 millimeter silver medal has the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse. The reverse of the medal has a ribbon with the wording FOR ACCUMULATED CAMPAIGN SERVICE with a grouping of oak, laurel and olive leaves.

The medal is suspended from a 32 millimeter ribbon with a central purple stripe with two narrow vertical gold stripes, flanked by green edges on both sides.

So, the modern day Captain John H Watson has two military decorations to his name. I’m anxiously awaiting to see the upcoming season 4 of Sherlock to discover if there are any more honors due the good doctor.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of The Watsonian, Volume 4, Number 2

The Watsonian is the official publication of the John H Watson Society and is edited by the 28th Garrideb, James C. O’Leary. Beth Gallego, the 39th Garrideb, currently serves as Selena Buttons for the JHWS.

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