Monday, December 26, 2011

Hate Belts in World War One

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

    American soldiers were known for their love of souvenirs in the Great War; So, a lot of material history of the war came across the Atlantic with returning soldiers. With the passing of time, most all World War One vets, and even those who knew them, are deceased.This means that there's a lot of "military stuff" to be found at estate sales, yard sales, flea markets, etc. Among collectors of military memorabilia from World War One "HATE BELTS" are items of interest.  As a classroom history teacher, I exploit use of tangibles of history so that students can actually touch history. World War One souvenirs are out there for teachers to use in in their classrooms to achieve those historically touchable moments with students. This leads me to an introduction to 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" description: 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" moniker: 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" description 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:

The belt pictured above was no doubt a souvenir belt. I say this because I have seen multiple examples of the exact same belt that appear to have been "designed" to be sold to visiting soldiers: the dates 1918 and 1919 and approximately the same number and placement of buttons and badges.
Below 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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