© Hendrik Meersschaert 2017
WORLD WAR II ORDERS, DECORATIONS AND MEDALS OF VARIOUS COUNTRIES
The Order of Liberation
Instituted on 16 November 1940 by General de Gaulle as an award to those who would be rendering exceptional services in liberating France and its colonies.
This order, in one class only, is made of bronze and its recipients are known as "Compagnons de la Libération" (a special collar version, Grand Master of the Order, was created on 31 August 1947 for the General himself).
The reverse legend reads "PATRIAM / SERVANDO / VICTORIAM / TULIT" (He brought victory by serving the homeland) and the ribbon colours are black (for mourning) and green (for the hope for future liberation).
This order is highly regarded and comes right after the Legion of Honour and before the Military Medal in the wearing order.
The War Cross (Croix de Guerre)
A new Croix de Guerre was created on 26 September 1939 similar to the 1914-1918 type but with a different ribbon (the colours of the Great War ribbon inverted) and the "1939" date on the reverse. As with the 1st World War type this cross was meant to show the recipient's bravery and individual citations are designated by stars or palms on the ribbon.
A number of variations on the above official issue are to be found, some due to the alleged place of manufacture (London, Milano, North Africa, Lebanon, ...), others stemming from their creation by the "Vichy" government (see below) and still others being postwar manufactured pieces.
A no doubt incomplete overview can be found on a separate page on this site by clicking on the thumbnail image :
The Colonial Medal
This silver(ed) medal was instituted in 1893 but a number of bars were authorised in connection with the Second World War : "1940 - CÔTE DES SOMALIS - 1942" (26 December 1941), "ERYTHREE", "FEZZAN", "KOUFRA" and "LIBYE" (all on 26 March 1942), "ETHIOPIE" (1 August 1942), "BIR HACHEIM 1942" (1 October 1942, some variations in the writing on this bar are found), "FEZZAN-TRIPOLITAINE" (23 February 1943), "AFL" (Afrique Française Libre, 25 July 1943), "TRIPOLITAINE" (7 January 1944) and "TUNESIE 1942-1943" (17 April 1944).
France being occupied, manufacture of the medal was executed by the London firm of John Richard Gaunt whose initials can be found on the reverse. Contemporary bars have a light blueish wash and a granulated background.
The Commemorative Medal of the Levant
General De Gaulle established this issue of the earlier Commemorative Medal of Syria-Cilicia on 30 March 1942 for award to membres of the Free French Forces that either took part in the policing operations in the Levant since 12 July 1941 or had been serving for a minimum of 2 years in the area.
The medal is of a striking chocolate coloured bronze and once again manufactured by the London firm of J.R. Gaunt (initials on the reverse at 4 o'clock). The bar on its ribbon, of the same colour as the medal, is believed to be contemporary though not officially instituted at the time.
The French Resistance Medal
General de Gaulle, as head of the Free French Forces, authorised this bronze medal on 9 February 1943 to acknowledge the courage of the members of the French Resistance.
Under the Lorraine cross on the obverse, the starting date of the German occupation of France , 17 June 1940, can be observed in Roman figures. The reverse inscription reads "PATRIA / NON / IMMEMOR" (The fatherland is not forgetting). In special cases a rosette on the ribbon was authorised.
As before, the medal was at first manufactured in London. Later issues mainly differ in the lettering on the reverse.
The Medal for Voluntary Service in the Free French Forces
Those who had volunteered for service in the FFF before 1 August 1943 were eligible for award of this silvered Lorraine Cross. It was instituted on 4 April 1946.
The War Commemorative Medal 1939-1945
Adopted on 21 May 1946, this somewhat pear-shaped medal was awarded to all military personnel for service in a recognized unit.
The pale blue ribbon with red and green side stripes has a row of red V's (Victoire, Victory) running down the centre. A number of bars were created for this medal : "FRANCE", "NORVEGE", "ITALIE" (see also Medal for Italy 1943-44), "LIBERATION", "ALLEMAGNE", "GRANDE BRETAGNE", "U.R.S.S." for European land or air campaigns, "AFRIQUE" and "EXTREME ORIENT" for non-European theatres of war, "ATLANTIQUE", "MEDITERANNEE", "MANCHE" and "MER DU NORD" to commemorate maritime operations and also "DEFENSE PASSIVE" and "ENGAGE VOLONTAIRE". From 8 November 1952 on, a bar with a red enamelled star could be worn if the recipient had received a war wound (also see below).
A number of unofficial bars, among them dated bars, have also been manufactured.
The Medal of Liberated France
On 12 September 1947 this bronze medal was created, originally named "Medal of Gratitude of Liberated France", to reward French or Allied personnel for service towards liberating France.
The obverse is very symbolic : a map of France surrounded by a chain that is broken by two shellbursts, one in the northwest, the other in the southeast, i.e. one for each Allied landing place. The reverse inscription simply reads "LA FRANCE - A SES LIBERATEURS" (France - to its liberators). The ribbon has the WW1 Victory Medal's colours (rainbow) inverted.
In June 1948, it received its present name and, at the same time, further decrees broadened the possibilities of awarding this medal but at the same time stated that holders of the Légion d'Honneur, the Medal of the Resistance, the Médaille Militaire, the Order of Liberation or the Medal of Gratitude could not recieve this medal.
The French Gratitude Medal
This medal for outstanding service in helping war casualties was originally authorised in 1917 but was, on 22 November 1946, extended to cover acts of resistance as well. Earlier in the same year, both obverse and reverse were newly designed and some 13,000 awards are believed to be related to WW2 activities. As in WW1, three classes were created : gold (with a ribbon rosette), silver and bronze.
The Medal for those Deported and Interned for Resistance Activities
This pentagonal medal was created on 6 August 1948 for those who, because of their resistance activities, were imprisoned for at least 3 months either in a French prison or, having been deported, in a prison or concentration camp outside France.
The ribbon indicates the difference : diagonal stripes for imprisonment in France, vertical stripes for deportees. The ribbon colours used are pale blue and white (symbolising the concentration camp uniform) with red edge stripes. Bars with either "DEPORTE" or "INTERNE" can be found on the ribbon but I have no further particulars on why these were added, the ribbon being already an indication of the recipient's status (feel free to inform me !).
The medal's obverse depicts two chained hands against a background of flames. The medal was made available retroactively to those who had undergone a similar fate in WW1 and this was indicated by a bar "1914-1918" on the ribbon.
On 9 September 1948, those deported or interned for political reasons were also recognized by the institution of a medal.
This circular medal has a different design but very similar ribbons when compared to the previous medal (awarded to persons having suffered the same fate but for resistance activities) : the red edge stripes were changed to yellow for this medal, otherwise the ribbons are identical. As with the preceding medal, bars with either "DEPORTE" or "INTERNE" can be found on the ribbon and similarly a bar "1914-1918" denotes a retroactive WW1 award. Bars combining the two (e.g. "DEPORTE 1914-1918") also exist but are to be considered unofficial.
The Medal for those Deported and Interned for Political Activities
The Bar for the Wounded
On 8 November 1952 this bar, depicting a red enamelled star, was authorised to be worn on the relative campaign or war medal by those wounded in action.
The Cross of the Combatant Volunteer of the War 1939-1945
This cross with the self-explanatory title is identical to the one award for WW1 but for the dates "1939-1945" in the reverse medallion. The ribbon is an inverted pattern of the WW1 version. It was authorised on 4 February 1953.
The Commemorative Medal for the Italian Campaign 1943-1944
Upon the creation of this silvered bronze medal on 1 April 1953, the bar "ITALIE" for the War Commemorative medal fell into disuse. The medal was awarded, as was the bar previously, to all members of the French Expeditionary Corps (CEF) serving in Italy and on Elba between 1 December 1943 and 25 July 1944. The CEF is perhaps best known for its participation in the Battle of Monte Cassino. The ribbon with its red and white stripes is reminiscent of the 1859 Medal for Italy's ribbon.
The Cross of the Combatant Volunteer of the Resistance
This bronze gilt cross was instituted on 15 April 1954 and shows the cross of Lorraine on the obverse and "COMBATTANT VOLONTAIRE RESISTANCE" in the reverse medallion. As its title indicates, it was awarded to those Resistance members who voluntarily took up arms against the occupying German forces.
The Medal of the Patriot, outlawed and forced to reside in enemy country
Instituted on 27 December 1954, this silvered bronze medal was awarded to persons of French origin, living in the Alsace and Lorraine provinces (once part of Germany) who, because of their patriotism, were arrested by the Germans and interned for a minimum period of three months.
The Defaulters Medal
Instituted on 21 October 1963, this medal was awarded to those that voluntary refused to go and do forced labour in Germany which either the Vichy government or the German occupants had organised. The obverse shows the legend "J'ai livré un bon combat" (I fought a good fight) and on the reverse is "Aux Réfractaires Guerre 1939-1945" (To the work refusers 1939-1945).
The Gratitude of the Nation Medal
On 12 April 2002, the French government created a new medal for award to the nation's veterans with a possible 5 bars which indicate the theatre of operations and period in which those veterans saw active service. The bars are "1914-1918", "1939-1945", "INDOCHINE", "AFRIQUE DU NORD" and "OPERATIONS EXTERIEURES". The ribbon used is the one for the Medal of North Africa, now rendered obsolete with the creation of this new medal.
Two more decorations were created during the war years : The Aeronautical Medal and the Medal of Honour of the Indian "Force Publique" (native police force). As they have no bearing on the conflict itself, they are merely mentioned here for the sake of being complete.
THE AWARDS OF THE VICHY REGIME
Between 11 July 1940 and 20 August 1944, the vanquished French Republic became the "Etat Français", governed from the town of Vichy by Field-Marshal Pétain. During the timespan of its existance, this puppet government instituted some awards of its own. All were afterwards declared illegal.
The Vichy Colonial Medal
As did the French government in exile in London, the Vichy government instituted its own bar "1940 - CÔTE DES SOMALIS - 1941" in December 1941 for this existing medal.
Later on a Colonial Medal replacing "REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE" with "ETAT FRANCAIS" as its obverse legend was also produced.
The Commemorative Medal for Syria-Cilicia with bar Levant 1941
In December 1941 the Vichy government instituted a silver bar, "LEVANT - 1941", for wearing on the Levant medal of 1922 which had already become obsolete by the time. It was awarded to those who had accepted the Vichy leadership and were serving in the area at the time.
The Combatant's Cross 1939-1940
On the same day as the Vichy Croix de Guerre, 28 March 1941, Marshal Pétain authorised a new version of the 1930 Combatant's Cross.
The reverse dates being "1939-1940" and a pale blue ribbon with black stripes are the identifying marks of this version as opposed to the 1930 award.
The Medal of Merit for Black Africa
The Vichy government instituted this bronze medal in June 1941. It was awarded to native troops for participation in actions in French Somaliland, French Equatorial Africa and Madagascar. The obverse has a map of Africa with a native sword partly over it, the reverse has an anchor. The ribbon is pale blue with green and red side stripes slightly apart.
The Order of the Francisque Gallique (Gallic Axe)
Awarded by Field-Marshal Pétain to members of the Vichy government or other important persons to the regime for "acts in promotion of the national revolution". It was first awarded on 16 May 1941. The badge consists of a two bladed axe protruding from a field-marshal's baton and is enameled in the French national colours. Both a type with a fastening needle and a buttonhole type have been found to exist and there would appear to be two manufacturers at least.
The Vichy Regime created one more decoration during its brief existance : The National Order of Labour. As it has little bearing on the war itself, it is mentioned here for the sake of completeness.