|Malaya. Singapore is the pink bit, bottom right|
I am standing on an observation tower guarding an RAF camp on the island of Singapore. To hand is a loaded rifle. Also a searchlight which I may swing this way and that. Dusk; the jungle beyond the camp is becoming darkly impenetrable.
Something moves. It's a skinny guy in a white shirt and short pants, down below on a narrow path. He’s moving towards me accompanied by three or four Asiatic cows almost as skinny as he is. I wash the searchlight over the cows, briefly lighting up their eyeballs. The skinny guy is resentful as if I’m interfering with his way of life. Which I suppose I am.
A hundred miles to the north, up the Malayan peninsula, shots are occasionally exchanged. The CTs (communist terrorists), surrounded by British Commonwealth troops and starved almost into skeletons, are coming to the end of their resistance. Soon the fighting will stop. Otherwise it’s still a war zone and sometimes an unlucky Brown Job – conscripted into two years’ national service, like me – will get his head shot off. Back home in the UK, months later, I take delivery of a General Service Medal with Malaya Clasp. Solid silver, no less. My name, rank (Junior Technician) and RAF number (2751052) inscribed round its edge.
Did I earn it? Well, I repaired VHF radios which allowed war-plane pilots to speak to each other. Implausibly this makes me a combatant.
I’m a long way from the action but terrorists are, of course, mobile. In the dark they could get quite close and I’d be a standing target atop my tower. But I'm bored rather than scared. No, I didn't deserve the medal.