Posted 9 months ago
Belgian Yser Medal, World War I Battle of Yser
The Yser Medal commemorates the valor of those who defended the Allies’ northern flank along the Yser River during the Battle of Yser, 17-31 October 1914. Among Belgian military medals, the Yser Medal is considered second only to the Belgian Croix de Guerre (War Cross) of 1914-18. (1) Instituted on 18 October 1918, the medal was awarded to both Belgian and Allied servicemen who fought this battle.
On 16 October 1914, German forces attacked Belgian posts east of the Yser river in an attempt to penetrate and turn the northern flank of the Allied front. This northern flank was held by the Belgians, who gave fierce battle with their warrior king, King Albert. The Belgians were situated along the canal, from Nieuport to Ypres via Dixmude. In the course of the battle, the Belgians flooded the area between Nieuport and Dixmude in an effort to repel the advancing German Army and protect western Belgium. The battle raged from 17-31 October, and the Belgians held fast - despite 60,000 casualties, about one third of their force. (2)
The Yser Medal is made of bronze; it measures 35mm in diameter. Its obverse depicts a helmeted warrior wielding a lance and shield - a warrior blocking the German advance. The warrior is clothed only with cape and helmet, and his only weapon is the lance. I can't make a firm identification of this helmet/helm. I initially assumed (with caveat) that it was probably meant to represent a ‘classical’ helmet/helm of some species. This would be consistent with the warrior’s lance, shield, and cape. Now, thanks to the clarity of the new images, I venture to posit that this is probably a World War I helmet. This warrior is very similar to images of Mars, Roman god of war, and also to images of Ares, the Greek god of war. Interestingly, Mars represented death and war, but also the prospect of a stable peace; whereas his Greek counterpart, Ares, represented death, destruction, and chaos. In Roman mythology, Mars is born directly of Jupiter, and is second only to Jupiter. (3) Perhaps the figure represents Mars. Perhaps the figure is an 'heroic' nude, representing the Belgian soldier at Yser. I think that the figure may well represent both. I will search for the artist's own explanation of his work.
The legend “17-31 Oct 1914” appears to the right of the lance. A small integral circular suspension medallion at top-center features the inscription “YSER”.
The medal's reverse depicts a lion on the battlefield, wounded by a ‘stake’-like object, possibly a broken-off arrow or lance. He roars, and he holds his ground. Above him to the right is a flaming torch. Below him “YSER”. In the integral suspension medallion at top, the letter “A” signifies King Albert; the letter is surmounted by a crown. The negative space in this suspension medallion is enameled in translucent “river green”. This image is much more beautiful than my scanned image conveys.
This is the original Battle of Yser medal that was issued in 1918 to servicemen who fought in the battle. It is different from the Yser Cross, which was instituted in 1934. The cross is very similar to the original, but it incorporates a cross pattée, and its external shape is punctuated by the four projecting arms of the cross.
Both medals are suspended from a black ribbon with a central orange stripe.
(1) Email of 15 May 2012 from Sir William Simpson, O.B.E., Retired RAF Wing Commander to miKKoChristmas11.
(2) One could fit 30 or more Belgiums into the area that comprises the state of Texas. 60,000 men represented a significant portion of Belgium's population.
(3) “Mars”, unsigned article in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_(mythology), accessed 26 Aug 2012.
This account was composed from the following sources.
http://www.northeastmedals.co.uk/foreignguide/belgian/yser.htm, accessed 26 Aug 2012.
Email of 15 May 2012 from Sir William Simpson, O.B.E., Retired RAF Wing Commander to miKKoChristmas11.
“Yser”, unsigned article in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yser, accessed 26 Aug 2012.
“Mars”, unsigned article in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_(mythology), accessed 26 Aug 2012.
"Ares GOD...", unsigned webpage, http://www.theoi.com/Summary/Ares.html, accessed 27 Aug 2012.
"Ares", unsigned article in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ares#Attendants, accessed 27 Aug 2012.
"Virtus and Her Parazonium", by Bill Welch,
http://www.forumancientcoins.com/moonmoth/reverse_virtus.html, accessed 27 Aug 2012.
"Greek Gods Chart", by Matt Baker, http://www.usefulcharts.com/history/greek-gods-chart.html, accessed 27 Aug 2012.