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Friday, 15 November 2013

The Croix de Guerre

During World War I, recognition of Canadian soldiers' bravery on the battlefield was not limited to British Imperial awards.  Both Belgium and France conferred similar honours on individuals serving with Allied armies, perhaps the most famous being the Croix de Guerre, an award for bravery established in each country during the war.

In December 1914, a member of the French Assembly first proposed the creation of a "Croix de la Valeur Militaire" (Cross of Military Honour) in recognition of courageous action on the battlefield.  When legislation to create the award was introduced the following month, its title was amended to "Croix de Guerre" ("Cross of War").  Approved by the Assembly on April 2, 1915, the law authorized the awarding of a medal to both French and Allied soldiers for acts of gallantry in combat. 

The medal consisted of a Florentine bronze cross with two crossed swords behind its arms.  The centre of its obverse side displayed a young woman wearing a Phrygian cap - the traditional symbol of the French Republic - surrounded by the words "Republique Francaise".  The reverse displayed the dates of the conflict - initially 1914-15, later changed to reflect the war's subsequent years.  A green ribbon with seven narrow vertical red stripes was attached to the top of the medal.

France's Croix de Guerre
Unlike its later Belgian counterpart, the French Croix de Guerre was not an exclusively individual award.  In special circumstances, it could be conferred on an entire military unit, such as the crew of a naval vessel that performed a significant act of bravery in battle.

The Belgian Croix de Guerre was created by royal decree on October 25, 1915.  It was awarded primarily for acts of "bravery or other military virtue on the battlefield" and was presented only to individuals.  In the war's later years, the Belgian Croix was issued to soldiers with three or more years' service at the front as well as individuals deemed inactive due to severe wounds.

The Belgian medal took the form of a Maltese Cross, with small balls at its eight points and crossed swords between its arms, topped by a royal crown.  The center of the obverse displayed the image of a lion, while the reverse bore the royal cypher of Belgium's King Albert I.  The medal was attached to a red ribbon with five light green stripes.

Belgium's Croix de Guerre
While many famous military figures, such as Canadian Corps Commander Sir Arthur Currie and British Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig, received this honour, it was also bestowed on infantry soldiers whose heroic actions on the battlefield earned the attention of their commanding officers.  As both medals were  "foreign awards", Canadian soldiers wore the Croix de Guerre to the right of service medals and awards (as one views the medals) received from the British Imperial government.


Belgian War Cross.  Hendrik's Medal Corner.  Available online.

Croix de Guerre.  Encyclopedia Brittanica.  Available online.

Croix de Guerre (Belgium).  Wikipedia: The Free Encclopedia.  Available online.

Croix de Guerre (France).  Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  Available online.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War, Part 12: Medals.  The Regimental Rogue.  Available online.

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