Police are appealing for witnesses after a British veteran was mugged by a gang of Asian teenagers, who robbed him of his medals, regimental beret, and poppy as he walked to a Remembrance Sunday parade to mark the centenary of the Great War.
George Gill, 70, was walking through a local park to a remembrance event in Keighley, Yorkshire on Sunday when he was knocked to the ground from behind. The army veteran, who had undertaken tours of duty in Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan, Gibraltar, Malaysia, and Ulster with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment left the army a sergeant, and is not long out of hospital after heart surgery. He had been ordered by doctors to ‘take it easy’ after having stents fitted to his heart before the attack.
The Yorkshire Post reports Gill’s comments on the incident, after which he picked himself up and continued to the parade to honour his fallen comrades. He said: “I’d had stopped in Lund Park to look at the embers of a fire which had been lit near a sign when out of nowhere I was grabbed or hit from behind. My beret was knocked off my head and I stumbled to the ground. I tried to stay on my feet because I didn’t know what would happen if I went to ground.
“I had not seen the gang of about six to eight Asian lads before this and I think they had been hiding in bushes. I had not seen or heard them or done anything to intimidate them. They were laughing and joking and speaking in a foreign language, not in English, so I don’t know what they were saying.
“I was shaken and couldn’t understand what was happening. They had taken my beret as a trophy and they were tearing it at like a pack of dogs with a piece of meat. They thought it was funny… I can only think I was targeted because of what I was wearing because it was not a mugging or robbery, because I had £200 in cash on me and they didn’t take that or ask for money”.
The beret, a soft felt hat in a distinct colour with a metal badge linked to the service or regiment is a treasured piece of any soldier or veteran’s kit. It is possible, and often a source of pride for a soldier to keep the same beret for the entire duration of his or her service, and unlike other items of uniform they will have accompanied the serviceman through good and bad.
They are also the only item of clothing soldiers leaving the armed forces are typically allowed to keep. Former sergeant Gill’s beret was in the colours of a regiment that no longer exists – it was stepped down by the last Labour government in 2006.
The police are apparently treating the attack as a straight robbery, rather than a hate crime. They said in a statement: “We would appeal to anyone who saw a group of Asian youths acting suspiciously in the park at around the time of this incident, or anyone who may have seen them leaving the park afterwards.
“We believe there would have been other people around at the time, perhaps also making their way to the Remembrance Day service. While not injured, the victim is understandably shaken by the loss of his beret and his medals”.