Thoughts: Cormoran Strike’s Military Medal

Post by BadlyWiredLamp

“Have you got a medal?” asked Nina, smiling and wide-eyed.

(Credit: BBC/Brontë Film & TV)

Cormoran Strike private detective, formerly Sergeant Cormoran Strike of the Special Investigation Branch of the British Military Police 1993-2007 (approx.), was awarded an as yet unnamed medal.

(Credit: BBC/Brontë Film & TV)

We first learn of this in The Cuckoo’s Calling (TCC) from his half-sister Lucy Fantoni, during a long diatribe concerning the end of his relationship with Charlotte Campbell, which we read from Strike’s perspective:

“… why hadn’t he realised that Charlotte would never change, that she had only returned to him for the drama of the situation, attracted by his injury and his medal?”

This appears to give us a tentative timeline for when Strike may have received his medal, but it is also the earliest link of his injury with the award. There is, however, a definite time frame for his injury and the extent of its effect on Strike’s body, when in Chapter 1:7 of TCC, after he makes a temporary home in his office and tries to sleep, we learn:

“He could still feel the missing foot, ripped from his leg two and a half years before. It was there, under the sleeping bag; he could flex the vanished toes if he wanted to.”

We know that TCC is set between January and May 2010, so ‘two and a half years before’ should mean his injury occurred sometime around August 2007.

A brief history of Charlotte and Strike’s relationship is described by a weary and emotionally battered Strike early in TCC:

”It was the first time in their long and turbulent relationship that he had walked out. Three times previously it had been Charlotte who had called a halt.”

So Strike and Charlotte were in a relationship that had periods of separation, including one that occurred before Strike was injured, which is given a timespan in the drunken recollection of chapter 4:5 of TCC:

“… was in hospital f’long time an’ I hadn’ seen her f’two years – no warning – an’ I saw her in the door an’ ev’ryone turned an’ saw her too, an’ she walked down the ward an’ she never said a word an,’ he paused to draw breath, and hiccoughed again, ‘an’ she kissed me aft’ two years, an’ we were back together. Nobody talkin’. Fuckin’ beautiful.”

If his injury occurred in August 2007 and they hadn’t met since the last half of 2005, he may have been awarded it between 2005 and 2007. Though this timeframe for when the medal may have been awarded is hinted at early on in TCC, we don’t have confirmation that the medal is not linked with the injury in 2007 until Career of Evil (CoE) because as we learn from a perturbed Matthew Cunliffe in The Silkworm (TSW):

“ … he would have found it distasteful showboating if Strike had held forth about his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, or told them how his leg had been blown off, or how he had earned the medal that Robin seemed to find so impressive, his silence on these subjects had been almost more irritating” (chapter 10).

As Robin considers the reasons why she and Strike were sent an amputated leg in chapter 26 of CoE, Strike confirms the medal wasn’t connected to the injury that ended his military career:

“‘Heroism,’ said Robin. 

Strike snorted. ‘There’s nothing heroic about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ 

‘You’re a decorated veteran.’ 

‘I wasn’t decorated for being blown up. That happened before.’ 

‘You’ve never told me that.’ She turned to face him, but he refused to be sidetracked.”

So it is possible that the reason Strike was awarded a medal occurred between the end of 2005, when he last saw Charlotte, and August 2007 when his leg was amputated.

The specific medal is the next part of the mystery. In TCC, an antagonistic Detective Inspector Carver reveals that he knows some of Strike’s history:

“‘He’s ex-SIB,’ threw in Wardle, from beside the filing cabinet. 

‘I know that,’ barked Carver, raising wiry eyebrows flecked with scurf. ‘I’ve heard from Anstis all about the fucking leg and the life-saving medal. Quite the colourful CV.’”

The grouping of Richard Anstis’ name with “fucking leg” and “life-saving medal” is another misdirection for the reader as to the nature of the incident that resulted in a medal, because two chapters before Carver’s revelation, Strike has a flashback caused by adrenaline and paparazzi cameras:

“Without conscious thought he had bellowed ‘Brake!’ lunged forwards and seized Anstis, a new father of two days’ standing, who was sitting right behind the driver …”

(Credit: BBC/Brontë Film & TV)

Strike does save Anstis, but as we now know, the medal came before the incident “on a yellow dirt road”.

The most unlikely of characters may provide clues or more misdirection as to which medal Strike received. In CoE, Robin recalls the avid interest Sarah Shadlock has in Strike’s military career:

“Is it true he was decorated in Afghanistan? Is it? Wow, so we’re talking a war hero too?”

This comment is ripe for confusing the issue. Robin isn’t aware until chapter 26 of CoE that the medal isn’t connected to Strike’s injury, but Sarah’s “Is it? Wow…” appears to show Robin agreeing that the medal is related to an incident in Afghanistan and the only one she and we know of is that which caused the amputation. However, it could be assumed that Sarah has researched Strike’s military record or a record of the various medals that have been awarded, and it was during an unrelated deployment to Afghanistan that the medal deserving episode occurred.

In Troubled Blood (TB), in the course of Strike’s interview with Dennis Creed, the serial killer seems to reveal he has prior knowledge of Strike’s career:

“ … you kill and you get given a medal and called a hero. I kill and get called evil and locked up forever.’”

Whilst the reader ought to mistrust most of what serial killer Creed says, the “ … you kill and get given a medal” could possibly offer some guidance as to the type of medal Strike received if we take the “you” as a singular rather than collective charge.

The Ministry of Defence Medal Office oversees the issuing of medals to current members of the armed forces, veterans and Ministry of Defence employees. Members of the military qualifying for decorations, gallantry and distinguished conduct medals are recommended by others, such as commanding officers.

There is an order of precedence starting with The Victoria Cross (VC), which is the premier Operational Gallantry Award for “conspicuous bravery”, a “daring, pre-eminent act of valour or self sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”. This medal was first awarded in 1857 and up until 2015, when it was last given, has had 1,358 recipients, with only eleven awarded since the Second World War. Many of the recipients were military medical staff, the most famous of whom was Captain Noel Chavasse, a doctor who performed great bravery rescuing his fellow soldiers in no-man’s land at the Battle of Guillemont in 1916. He received two Victoria Crosses.

Next in precedence is the George Cross, awarded for “non-operational gallantry not in the presence of the enemy” for the “greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger”. Introduced in 1940 and last awarded in 2021, it has had 416 recipients (including three collective awards, one of which is the National Health Service), half of which were civilians.

Victoria Cross & George Cross

Our subjective opinion is that Robert Galbraith probably wouldn’t award the fictional detective, né soldier, the highly prestigious and world famous Victoria or George Cross. Not that he is incapable of performing the highest level of gallantry, just that it would bring yet another level of fame and notoriety to Strike’s life.

The four other medals Sergeant Strike might have been recommended for are the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) awarded for “highly successful command and leadership during active operations”, the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC) for “operational gallantry” or “an act of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy”, the Military Cross (MC) for “exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land” and the George Medal (GM) awarded for “conspicuous gallantry not in the presence of the enemy.” There might be some merit in the CGC.

In Lethal White, Jasper Chiswell recognised Strike’s name as the investigating officer of his son Major Freddie Chiswell’s death in Iraq:

‘You investigated Freddie’s death,’ he said abruptly, glancing at Strike out of the corner of his eyes … ‘I remembered your name on the report,’ said Chiswell. ‘It’s an unusual one.’”

We already know how Freddie Chiswell died, during an attack on a military convoy in Basra, Iraq, because Strike tells Robin after Chiswell calls the agency to make an appointment. Later more information via Strike’s memory of interviewing a surviving soldier reveals:

“… the convoy stopped, Major Chiswell told me to get out, see what was going on. I told him I could see movement up on the ridge. He told me to fucking well do as I was told. 

‘I hadn’t gone more than a couple of feet when I got the bullet in the back. The last thing I remember was him yelling out of the lorry at me. Then the sniper took the top of his head off’ (chapter 48).

Freddie’s seeming lack of leadership or gallantry in the face of the enemy is further laid bare by Strike’s comment:

“‘Freddie Chiswell was a prize shit. I investigated a lot of Killed in Actions, and I never had so many people ask me whether the dead officer had been shot in the back by his own men.’”

No mention is made in Lethal White about Jasper Chiswell’s eldest son receiving a medal; however, in the television adaptation there is a scene at Chiswell House where mention is made of a specific medal.

Strike: “Freddie was awarded the CGC posthumously wasn’t he?”

Jasper Chiswell: “Yes, what of it?”

CS: I’d love to see it, for personal reasons. Do you happen to have it here?”

JC opens a wooden box to reveal the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

JC: “Only sixty of these awarded since it was created.”

(Credit: BBC/Brontë Film & TV)
(Credit: BBC/Brontë Film & TV)

Strike asking about the medal could of course be a way of smoothing Chiswell’s ruffled feathers, distracting him from the lack of progress he and Robin were making in the blackmail investigation. It might, however, be a clue to Strike’s own medal.

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross was instituted in 1993 after a review of the system whereby honours are awarded, and replaced several honours of the second level behind the VC and GC, it can be awarded to all three services personnel of any rank.

Those that have performed “an act or acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy” can be recommended. The medal is in the shape of a flared cross with a laurel wreath behind it, the reverse side plain for engraving. It hangs from a red, white and blue ribbon of varied stripe width. 

Conspicuous Gallantry Medal

So far, sixty CGCs have been awarded, and due to the date of institution the acts of gallantry have taken place mostly in Iraq (15 recipients) and Afghanistan (41).

We know some of the locations where Strike served are Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans (Bosnia), Angola, Germany and Cyprus. If the event that precipitated the honour did occur between 2005 and 2007, and it was the CGC, there is precedent for this to be possible, as between March 2005 and July 2007, twelve CGCs were presented to individual soldiers showing gallantry in Iraq (7) and Afghanistan (4). One of whom was Sergeant Johnathan Stuart Hollingsworth (1971-2006), who received the CGC posthumously after sustaining a fatal gunshot wound during the capture of Iraqi insurgents in Basra. The bullet which killed Hollingsworth was the same ordnance used by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in the area, later found to also be used by Iraqi insurgent snipers via Iranian arms supply. 

In conclusion, with the information we have so far, we believe it was the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal that Strike received sometime between 2005 and August 2007 in Afghanistan.

Hopefully, Strike accepted the medal with his family in attendance. There may possibly be a photograph of the event as is hinted in TSW:

“ … the middle boy … made a beeline for Strike and held out a homemade card. ‘That’s you,’ said Jack, pointing at the picture, ‘getting your medal.’”

What are your thoughts?


Post by BadlyWiredLamp

Leave a Reply