Friday, 6 November 2015

Military History Photo Friday: A WWI Medal from Morocco

As I mentioned before, I just got back from a one-month writing retreat in Tangier. I’m not much for buying souvenirs, but I do like rummaging around the city’s many little antique shops. They tend to be cramped little cubbyholes in the medina, the traditional market, shops about the size of a walk-in closet and stuffed with old bits and pieces, everything from old clocks and porcelain to stacks of mildewed books.

This sort of shop rewards a close look. Amid all the chipped plates, faded old postcards, and tarnished silverware you can find some interesting pieces, including this Croix de Guerre from World War One. This is not a rare medal. More than two million were distributed by the French government to reward bravery in battle to French and allied soldiers. At times they were given to entire regiments who had done something especially impressive.

The obverse shows a young woman wearing a Phrygian cap, symbol of the French Republic, surrounded by the words République française ("French Republic"). The back of the medal shows the dates of the conflict up to the point when they were minted: 1914–1915 then 1914–1916, 1914–1917 and finally 1914–1918. Mine ends with 1918 so it was made in the last year of the war or shortly thereafter. The cross hung from a green ribbon with seven narrow vertical red stripes. Especially brave individuals got extra attachments such as a silver palm.

Moroccan colonial troops were in the war from the start, including the Battle of the Aisne in September 1914. That’s the scene of the action in Trench Raiders, the first novel in my WWI series. The regiment I follow, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, fought alongside a French Colonial regiment from Morocco during that battle and so I included some Moroccans as characters. As far as I know, the Oxs and Bucks never fought alongside a Moroccan regiment again, so I’m glad I got to include them in the first book.

Who knows? Maybe this medal belonged to some Moroccan who fought at the Aisne. As the war escalated, more colonial troops flowed into the Western Front from sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia. More than 72,000 French colonial soldiers died during the war. You can read more about it here.

More Morocco photos coming soon once I figure out how to get them off my phone!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A lucky find. That pattern might look cool on one of your books. Or in it.

D.G. Hudson said...

A very interesting piece, and I like Alex's suggestion. I like browsing antique shops when no one rushing me.

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.