A HISTORICAL imbalance in the way former RAF personnel are commemorated has been righted, thanks largely to the efforts of a Swindon councillor.

Until the start of this month, MOD rules made it a requirement that in order to use the RAF badge on the headstone of a former serviceman or woman, that individual would have to have served for a minimum of 16 years as an officer or 20 years at a non-commissioned rank.

The minimum service requirement also applied to other memorials and included the use of individual unit crests and insignia.

While one might expect that such rules were standardised across the UK Armed Forces, that was not the case.

Former British Army and Royal Navy personnel only had to serve for as little as one day in order to be entitled to a similar honour.

But now, following a campaign led by Coun Dale Heenan and former Lance Corporal Gareth Milner, a decision has been taken at the top of the Ministry of Defence to change the rules.

In September 2016, Coun Heenan, who represents the Covingham and Dorcan ward, contacted Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Hillier and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to highlight the difference in how the RAF, Army and Navy deal with the sensitive issue

As a result of that approach, an active review of the policy was launched.

At the same time, former Lance Corporal Gareth Milner, who served in Afghanistan and later went on to work for North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, organised a petition which was signed by hundreds of people to raise awareness of the memorial rules.

Coun Heenan said: "Gareth saw action in two tours of Afghanistan, and if anything happened to him then his family could decide for themselves if they wished to remember the time he served for his country by including the Army crest and his regiment badge on his headstone.

"Yet I know of former RAF personnel who saw action in Desert Storm, the first Iraq war, and a friend who is currently on deployment whose families wouldn't have the option to request the use of the RAF crest or a unit badge simply because they haven't seen 16 years service as an Officer or 20 years’ service as an NCO.

"My Dad was in the RAF and until Gareth mentioned this issue I never realised such an anomaly existed. While this issue wouldn't have affected my family, we both felt the rules were from a bygone era and needed to change."

And now that hope has been realised after an MOD review concluded that new rules, bringing all three services into line, should be introduced as of this month.

The new rules are also retrospective meaning thousands of military families could potentially benefit from the changes.

"It’s great to see common sense prevail," said Coun Heenan. "The new rules are simple, easy to follow and treat all Army, Navy and RAF personnel and their families the same way on a very sensitive issue.

"If scrapping the length of service rule for the RAF, and simplifying the memorial process for all deceased Army, Navy and RAF personnel makes it a little easier for families at a very difficult time, then a good thing has happened."

Gareth added: "It is fantastic that the MOD listened to our campaign. This is an emotional topic, and while it’s a small point, the last thing any family wishes in such a situation is to face arbitrary barriers by the Ministry of Defence.

"The Government recognised that consistency really should apply to the Army, Navy and RAF, and the new rules could benefit thousands of military families who would like their deceased family member's military service to be recognised."