Monday, December 26, 2011

Hate Belts in World War One

BRITISH Soldiers pose with captured German helmets and souvenirs in WW I .

Among collectors of military memorabilia, HATE BELTS are desireable today. And during the war and just after, Allied soldiers were known for their love of souvenirs in the Great War;  yet American soldiers were especially keen for acquiring mementos from The Great War. With the passing of time, most all World War One vets, and even those who knew them, are deceased. While it sounds callous to say, this reality makes for lots and lots of souvenirs out there for teachers to achieve those historically touchable moments with students. This leads me to introduce HATE BELTS.

German soldiers' leather belts, and other belts from participating armies,  that were festooned with buttons from soldiers uniforms are called Hate Belts / Souvenir Belts / Grave Digger Belts. These made for excellent keepsakes.  First for the "Hate Belt" explanation: the idea was that if a German soldier had killed or captured an Allied soldier, then he would have the button from the newly deceased or captured soldier attached to his belt as a kind of notch of conquest on his belt. This, no doubt, is the most intriguing explanation for those decorative belts. The "Souvenir Belt" explanation: this description is apt for many of the belts that are in circulation today. The souvenir belt would involve a German infantryman's belt being decorated with buttons and tabs from troops BOTH Allied and CENTRAL Powers and sold as a remembrance of The War.

this image shows a French military figure "attempting" to acquire a souvenir from a German soldier.

The "Grave Digger Belt" example is self explanatory, to a degree. Troops burying dead soldiers would sometimes remove buttons from those they buried as a remembrance. It is impossible to determine the origin of most belts, but some of these highly collectible belts provide some hints as to their origin. Nevertheless, these belts provide for excellent points of interest for students. The belt depicted below is a SOUVENIR BELT:

This belt was no doubt a souvenir belt. I say this because I have seen similarly "designed" belts: the dates 1918 and 1919 and approximately the same number and setup of buttons and badges. Here is a photo of a DOUGHBOY with one of these souvenir belts.

The author's collection of Hate Belts and Souvenir belts. Not all of these souvenir belts were German belts, per se. Here we have some Austrailian, British, AND German belts.

Students handling WW I mementos, including a HATE BELT.

Why not explain what a HATE BELT is to students, while covering WW I, and then pass one of these around?

reference works
1. Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour by Joseph E. Persico
2. Unknown Soldiers by Neil Hanson
3. Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

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