The Croix de Guerre is one of France’s most prestegious decorations and was awarded for Gallantry in combat. It has been awarded by both the French and Belgian governments since 1915 to their countrymen and Allies alike, who have served with distinction on the battlefield. Consisting of a maltese style cross with swords, the standard Croix de Guerre is suspended by a silk ribbon of alternating red and green coloured vertical stripes.
IMAGE RIGHT: The traditional Croix de Guerre issued by the French Government during World War One. Note that this particular medal ribbon has the alternating ‘red and green’ stripes from which the medal is suspended. This particular medal was dated on the reverse ‘1914-1917’.
However, this award went through a dark period of it’s history – when France became occupied by the Nazis of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. As a result of the German takeover of France, a wartime government was based in the city of Vichy, south of Paris. And as a result, the term “Vichy French” refers to a period in the history of France which many of her citizens consider to be a very bleak and unfortunate time in their long and proud saga. This Vichy government existed between July 1940, until November of 1942; when the German regime finally took over the whole of France.
IMAGE LEFT: German troops marching through the Arc De Triomphe after the surrender of Paris on the 14th of June, 1940. For the Frenchmen of both World Wars who fought for the freedom of their country, it was a heartbreaking moment.
Thanks to an Australian Militaria Dealer who sources very scarce and valuable war medals, one of the rarest types – of French CROIX DE GUERRE ever commissioned, has come into the hands of the Medals Gone Missing Administrator. This particular Croix de Guerre, was commissioned during the German occupation of France in 1940.
All French veteran’s who had been awarded a Croix de Guerre prior to the German invasion (and who were loyal to the newly formed Vichy Government) were required to exchange their ‘Republic’ awards in favour of the new ‘Vichy’ government type. It differed from the traditional medal in that the red vertical stripes on the medal ribbon were no longer present; black stripes being substituted in their place.
IMAGE RIGHT: The Vichey endorsed Croix de Guerre which was forwarded to Medals Gone Missing by an Australian Medals and Militaria Dealer. Note that the ‘red’ vertical stripes of the traditional Croix de Guerre have been substituted for ‘black’ vertical stripes.
Of particular interest to Medals Gone Missing was the part played by the Vichy French forces in their defence of Syria in June and July of 1941. (To read more about the part played by two different soldiers of the Australian 7th Division please click Harry KATEKAR and Con VAPP)
This extremely rare Vichy Croix de Guerre became prohibited after the war ended and was removed in accordance with the degree of 7th January, 1944.
Still in it’s original cardboard box of issue, this extremely rare French Medal is in very good condition – with the scarce ‘ Palm Leaf Gallantry Citation ‘ attached to the ribbon. Instituted on the 28th of March 1941, it has the same design features as the earlier 1939 type with the exception that the reverse shows the inscripted date of 1939/1940. The black edging to the ribbon with five alternating black stripes, was only awarded from 1941 until the liberation of France by the allies in 1944. It was proudly worn by French Vichy soldier’s serving in the French colonies, including members of the French Foreign Legion serving on the Russian Front. Pétain and the Vichy regime willfully collaborated with German Forces; whilst their exiled countrymen served in the “Free French” forces on the side of the Allies.
It is a little known fact that Germany allowed a well armed, Vichy French Army to exist whilst it occupied France during World War Two. Set at 3,768 officers, 15,072 non-commissioned officers, and 75,360 men – it was known as the “Vichy French Metropolitan Army” until the liberation of France in 1944. All Vichy French personnel serving in the forces had to be volunteers. In addition to this army, the size of the paramilitary Gendarmerie was fixed at 60,000 men; plus an anti-aircraft force of 10,000 men. A Vichy French Colonial Force about 145,000 strong, was divided up amonst her colonies including the Mediterranean area, Morroco, Algeria, and the ” Army of the Levant” in Lebanon and Syria. All up, a total Vichy armed force of some 309,200 men serving in Army, Anti-Aircraft Forces and Police.
While Marshal Philippe Pétain was Chiefe of State of Vichy France and collaborated with the Germans, Charles de Gaulle claimed to incarnate the legitimacy and the continuity of France. Following the liberation of France after Operation Overlord, de Gaulle proclaimed the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) in June 1944. After the Liberation of Paris in August, the GPRF installed itself in Paris on August 31. The GPRF was recognized as the legitimate government of France by all the allies on October 23, 1944.
Several versions of of this cross exist:
1: dated 1939-1940 with flat topped 3 on reverse (Offical Paris Mint)
2: dated 1939-1940 with round topped 3 on reverse (Private Contractor to Vichy)
3: dated 1941
4: dated 1942
5: dated 1943
6: dated 1944
7: dated 1944, observe “la Republique” and legend replaced with the Francisque and the legend; ETAT FRANCAIS.
Medals Gone Missing Administrator would like to thank the Militaria Dealer who generously supplied the images and content of this story.