Orders & Medals Society of America Forums French Medal Collecting French Medals post-1870 Volunteer Combatants Medal / Méd. des Engagés Volontaires

  • This topic has 1,450 voices and 13 replies.
Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
  • Author
  • #11909

    At first sight, this one looks straightforward to identify but I’ve drawn a blank so far, despite scouring all my French reference books.

    The obverse has a female head facing left by Rivet, her helmet crowned with a lion. Without the lion, it is a mirror image of the unofficial 1870-1871 medal for volunteers 2nd type (known as the Rivet medal ‘Médaille dite de Rivet’) whose female head faces firmly right. The reverse is a familiar trophy of arms, not that of the Rivet medal. (Is the prominence of the anchor some kind of clue?). The bar is that found on the usual 1870-1871 medal. The ribbon is not one I can find either.

    So the circumstantial evidence suggests another version of the unofficial medal for the French 1870-1871 volunteers, perhaps naval.

    Does this ring any bells?

    You must be logged in to view attached files.

    it is the medal of Engaged Volunteer.
    It is an unofficial medal numerous variants of which there are.


    You must be logged in to view attached files.

    Cher David,

    Je vous remercie beaucoup – je suis tres connnaissant.

    Bien cordialement,


    (Or as we say in English, "Thanks a lot, mate!")


    Bonjour, hello

    we are precisely covering this subject on our forum in France.


    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


    I also have this medal on two of my Foreign Legion groups from the Indochina War period so it appears that it was still knocking around in the 1950s as well. Both groups in question were to Germans who served in Indochina.




    I’d like to thank both Pauls for very interesting contributions and to ask Paul (Demoge) his view on the idea that a version of the medal was issued as early as 1898 by the FCVME (Fédération des Combattants Volontaires des Missions Exterieures) which may be distinguished from later versions by the fact that the early version has a ‘béliére tronconique’ – which I translate as a faceted (rather than a spherical) ball suspension.



    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



    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



    I have double checked my records, one of them is probably not a Legion group (it came without documents) but the other definitely is. It was definitely added after he had ended his service since he has other veteran awards as well.

    I have about twenty different groups of Legion medals and documents and you are correct in that not a single one of them has an unofficial award when the medals are obviously as they were when worn in uniform. However the same is not the case in some cases for groups worn by "anciens", but given the service they have rendered I believe we should allow them that little bit of extra vanity.

    Best regards,



    Through my travels I found this wonderful mini set.

    I noticed you had different mini so I wanted to submit this.

    Medal #10: I don’t know what this is… any help would be appreciated.
    Front: REPUBLIC FRANCAISE around the rim. On the ribbon “ENGAGE VOLONTAIRE”.
    Back: HONNEUR ET PATRIE with an anchor and crossed cannons

    Initials: Medals #5 and #6, the Croix du Combattant (Combattants Crosses), both have the initials “BR” on the back and a stamp that looks like a beret (but I am not sure).

    I am not an expert on these ribbons but it appears authentic.

    : Légion d’Honneur – Highest decoration awarded to soldiers who distinguish themselves in battle. Created by Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1902. Fifth Republic Commander? Knight insignia: the centre features Marianne’s head. A crown of laurels joins the cross and the ribbon.
    Front: République Française
    Additionally, I think Medal #4 (Croix de Guerre with Palm) is automatically awarded when the Légion d’Honneur is awarded for war time heroism. Medal #4, Croix de Guerre with Palm has “1939” on the back.

    : Médaille Militaire – 3rd Republic 1870 – 1940 Second highest decoration awarded to generals and admirals in charge of armies or fleets and non-commissioned officers who distinguished themselves in war. Created in 1852 under Napoleon Bonaparte.
    Issued: Prior to 1951

    : Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star — Awarded to all those who were mentioned in dispatches starting at the beginning of World War I. Different devices attached to the ribbon indicate different levels of recognition. Army, division etc. This medal has a Bronze star for indicating brigade or batallion level.
    Back: “1914 – 1918”

    : Croix de Guerre with Palm is automatically awarded when the Légion d’Honneur is awarded for war time heroism.
    Back: “1939”

    : Croix du Combattant Volontaire -This cross was awarded to volunteers who served at the front in a French combatant unit.
    Back: COMBATTANT VOLONTAIRE in the inner ring.

    : Croix du Combattant – Awarded to all military personnel who fought on the front.

    : Médaille commémorative de la Grande Guerre 1914-1918 – Awarded to all Armed Forces members who served between 1914 and 1918. It could also awarded to members of the Merchant Navy, medical personnel, local fire and police units of bombed cities.
    Back: “REPUBLIC FRANCAISE” on outer circle; “GRANDE GUERRE 1914 – 1918” barley visible in the center (had to use a 5 power magnifying glass to read it but it is there)

    : Médaille de la Victoire 1914-1918 – Awarded to all members of the armed forces who served for a minimum of 3 months during WWI.
    Back: "RF La Grande Guerre pour la Civilisation 1914-1918".

    : Médaille de la Résistance – Awarded by General Charles de Gaulle "to recognise the remarkable acts of faith and of courage that, in France, in the empire and abroad, have contributed to the resistance of the French people against the enemy and against its accomplices since June 18, 1940".
    Front: “ XVIII.VI MCMXL” 17th Day, 6th Month 1940 start of the German occupation

    : I don’t know what this is… any help would be appreciated.
    Front: REPUBLIC FRANCAISE around the rim. On the ribbon “ENGAGE VOLONTAIRE”.

    : Médaille Commémorative de la Guerre de 1939-1945 –awarded to military members who served between September 1939 and May 1945 fighting the Axis forces.
    Back: “REPUBLIC FRANCAISE” around rim “GUERRE” and “1939 – 1945” in center.

    : Services Volontaires dans la France Libre — Awarded for voluntary service prior to August 1943
    Front: “FRANCE LIBRE”
    Back: “18 JUIN 1940 – 8 MAI 1945”

    You must be logged in to view attached files.

    According the website of the French National Association of the Awardees of Nation Recognition Title (Association Nationale des Titulaires
    du : Titre de Reconnaissance de la Nation) it is the Volunteer Medal (médaille Engagé Volontaire).

    I could find 2 of them for sale on ebay and they reffer the same way.

    I will try to find something else.


    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



    Many thanks for these very valuable informations that are very difficult to find.
    Do you know a book dealing with this medal ?

    Thanks again.



Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.