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  • in reply to: Legion d’Honneur and Orders Museum (Paris) #13839

    demoge
    Member

    Paris Legion d’honneur and Orders Museum reopens

    It is very pleasant news that the Paris "Musee de la Legion d’honneur et des Ordres de chevalerie" is now open to the public.

    I was invited to a special preview yesterday. I stayed 2 1/2 hours and could not see everything in detail. Completely refurbished in a neat and elegant way on three levels, this Museum was under reconstruction for over 3 years, litterally gutted out and rebuilt. It is one of the greatest Museums uniquely dedicated to Orders and Decorations in the World, and certainly the most modern.

    French and world-wide orders and decorations are on show, with drawers the visitor can pull out to see more. The complete history of French awards and decorations is profusely covered and many extremely rare foreign awards are also on display.

    But I will not try to describe the material… Just don’t miss it on your next visit to Paris.

    The Museum is open every afternoon from 13 to 18 hours except on Mondays and Tuesdays. It is very centrally located and easy to reach by the Underground (Metro) and buses.

    A very worthwhile visit, even worth the trip.

    Best regards to all.
    Paul


    demoge
    Member

    Dear collector friend

    This round bronze medal with a green ribbon and yellows borders requires some historical explanation.

    When the French went to war in 1914, the Armed Forces were made up of soldiers and sailors coming from national conscription : all citizens were called up at age 20 and served a prescribed time. After which, they went back to civilian life, with the obligation of remaining members of the Reserve Forces for an additionnal number of year. A proportion of the forces, mostly officers and NCOs, were truly professionnals. This situation had been established by law for decades before 1914.
    When war was declared, a general mobilisation called all reserve troups to the colours. Everyone who was still registerd to serve with the reserves had to go.
    Very soon, volunteers joined the coulours. They were men under-age or who had been released from reserve army obligations. Either because they were in poor health, or too old, or for other legitimate reasons. Also a large number of foreigners who were sympathetic to the French side.

    When the war was over, a number of ex-servicemen who had done this felt they deserved special recognition for having joined when they were not compelled to do so.
    The first such recognition was a bar on the WW1 french commemorative medal with the caption "ENGAGE VOLONTAIRE". Which did not show up very much.
    Some commercial firms, I don’t really know which, felt they were going to fill the gap, and they invented this "award" with a very attractive ribbon, the colours of which were the exact reverse of the Medaille Militaire, the highest award for enlisted men and NCOs as well as the highest award given to general officers having led their troups to victory….

    Later on, in the 1930s, the Volunteer Combattant Cross was officially created for the men who had the official status of War Combattant AND had volunteered for war services. It is still one of the significant french decorations, counting as a war-credit, like a mention in dispaches. But it left out men who had volunteered without having been for long enough, or at all, with a fighting unit on the front.

    The so-called Medaille des engages volontaires is therefore a strictly private affair. No one can be stopped from wearing it privately or as a miniature, because France is a free country. But it should be known that it has no official status at all, and its wearing is prohibited on the uniform during active service. And that is also why information is hard to find about it.

    But it can be seen, as in this case, with perfectly official other awards. The owner of the group felt he would enjoy wearing an extra gong… and he did.

    With very best regards
    Paul


    demoge
    Member

    Peter

    The unofficial medaille des engages volontaires was clearly a post-WW1 invention, as I explained in my previous message. The Federation of Exterior Operations is a late 1900s initiative. The only "medal" in the late 1800s , other than the Legion d’honneur, medaille militaire and official commemoratives for colonial expeditions, was the un-official medal of the Association of Veterans of the franco-prussian war of 1870-71.
    All the best
    Paul


    demoge
    Member

    Paul
    I have no doubt this medal can be added to any group of medals when the owner feels intitled to it. But this Engagé volontaire medal would certainly NEVER be worn by a Legionnaire in active duty. IT JUST WOULD NOT BE DONE.
    Such groups could be put together at a later date, after discharge from the Legion, simply to indicate that the owner served as a volunteer, which of course is true of any legionnaire. The interesting question is : where did the owners choose to include this unofficial medal with their official commemorative medals and possibly Croix de guerre TOE or even Medaille militaire?
    I hope my remarks will not seem pointed. It’s just that I personnally served with the Legion during WW2 and feel strongly about our traditions.
    All the best
    Paul


    demoge
    Member

    This medal has a story:
    during the First World War, the vast majority of French troups were called up by age, usually when they were 20 years old. The Army and Navy also had large number of reserve officers, NCOs and ORs due to the fact that all Frenchmen had to serve for national service. These were called back as need appeared.
    But an number of men, who for various reasons were not called (too old, too young, foreigners living in France) wanted to do their bit and enlisted : those were the ENGAGES VOLONTAIRES.
    When the war was over official medals started to be issued for a variety of services ; it was then felt that freely joining the combat forces was something special, worthy of recognition. And some makers of medals had the idea of offering this particular item.
    The coulours of the ribbon being the reverse of the highly regarded Medaille Militaire were an added attraction. This situation was absolutely unofficial and wear in uniform was strickly prohibited. But veterans in civies could not be prevented from wearing them if they felt like it.
    A first step towards regulating this was an ENGAGE VOLONTAIRE bar to the French commemorative war medal, .
    Then, when the Croix du combattant was created, those who were intitled to it and could prove they volonteered were given the CROIX DU COMBATTANT VOLONTAIRE, which ranks high amongs French war medals to the point of being considered as a "titre de guerre" similar to a MID.
    After that, the Medaille des engages volontaires lost its appeal.

    It reappeared with WW2, particularly during the early period, tragically dubbed "the funny war" because so little was happening….. until Hitler decided to change matters, and sent Guderian and his tanks through the Ardennes all the way to Dunkirk in 3 weeks !
    This unofficial medal is part of the history of both world wars. It can sometimes be seen worn, but is more usually found at the Flea Market. It probably should not be looked down to, since it really meant something to sincere people for some time. It now is out of order. A collector’s piece.

    I hope I made a complicated story not too fuzzy.

    All the best
    Paul

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