Some of the military themes popular with topical coin collectors
include battle commemoratives; coins depicting tanks, ships and
planes; all types of weaponry; treaty and peace celebrations; and the
topic of this month’s column, military men and women.
Soldiers, sailors and pilots can be found on a wide range of world
coins and medals, and some have highly creative designs that evoke
An excellent recent example of this is a 2006 50-pence
commemorative coin from Great Britain. To celebrate the 150th
anniversary of the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for
valor, Great Britain used the medal as a backdrop for an act of
courage. In the foreground, a soldier carries a wounded comrade to
safety, leaving no doubt about the type of military action that earns
someone a Victoria Cross.
A favorite coin within this topic is the 1955 Czechoslovakian
silver 10-korun piece. To note the 10th anniversary of the end of
German occupation, the observer gets to relive the elation of
liberation. As the Russian Red Army entered Prague, the last of the
Nazis fled. The scene depicts a grateful child sitting on the knee of
an infantryman and giving him a bouquet of flowers.
A source of great suffering for those who serve in the military is
becoming a prisoner of war. Australia chose to recognize this and to
honor all of its prisoners of war through a coin that singled out a
particularly famous one. Edward “Weary” Dunlop was a medic during
World War II whose hard work and courage kept many Australian POWs
alive as they were forced to labor for the Japanese occupiers. After
the war, Dunlop set an example of forgiveness and compassion. The 1995
Australian 50-cent coin shows Dunlop behind a screen of barbed wire.
Along with the joy of liberating a nation or a group of POWs there
is another special occasion to look forward to in wartime: negotiating
peace. In 1995, Russia issued a 3-ruble coin commemorating the 50th
anniversary of Elbe Day. This meeting of the allies within German
borders at the Elbe River on April 25, 1945, meant the end of World
War II in Europe was near. Adolf Hitler committed suicide four days
later. This coin design is also interesting as it features a U.S. flag
on a non-U.S. coin.
Historically, foot soldiers have outnumbered all other kinds of
military personnel and are frequently honored on coinage as a result.
Poland paid tribute to its infantry on that military branch’s 50th
anniversary in 1989. The 500-zloty coin shows a group of armed,
helmeted Polish soldiers advancing toward their target. It is a design
with which anyone who has served in any nation’s army can easily identify.
In modern times, more women are serving in the military than ever
before, and in some nations, that also includes combat positions.
Canada chose to call attention to the often overlooked female sailor
with a 2010 dollar commemorative coin celebrating the centennial of
the Canadian Navy and Marines, having a design depicting both a man
and a woman in uniform.
A nation may operate two or three military branches, depending on
that country’s defense needs, and it can be difficult finding coins
that honor those who serve in the smaller units within those branches.
A form of presentation medal generally called military challenge
coins, or MCCs, can help fill the holes in a collection. MCCs are
actually medals, sometimes enameled, that date back to World War I and
are used to challenge and prove membership in a particular group
within the military. Collectors have many varieties from which to choose.
One 2001 military challenge coin commemorates the start of
Operation Enduring Freedom, Oct. 7, 2001. It pays homage to five of
six American branches, including the Coast Guard, Marines, Air Force,
Army and Navy. It lacks mention only of the National Guard to make it
a complete U.S. military commemorative.
It is too easy to forget that nonhumans have always worked side by
side with humans that serve in the military. Even in World War II,
despite the proliferation of tanks and other armored vehicles, horses
were an important part of land battles. Camels, mules, oxen, pigs,
homing pigeons, dolphins, sea lions and dogs have all assisted with
military objectives. The modern bomb-sniffing dog is considered an
indispensable part of the U.S. military, almost as critical as the
horse in older conflicts.
One example, the 1969 Tunisian silver dinar, shows military
animals in action. Part of a coin series struck by America’s Franklin
Mint for Tunisia, this coin commemorates the ancient army of the
Carthaginian general Hannibal. In 218 B.C., Hannibal crossed the
Pyrenees Mountains with 37 war elephants to attack Roman forces. ■