Lacplesis Military Order
In 1920s-30s there were four official awards in the Republic of Latvia: Lacplesis Military Order, the Order of the Three Stars, Viesturs Order and the Cross of Acknowledgement. The Military Order and the Order of the Three Stars were awarded by the Board of the Orders. In 1938, when Viesturs Order and the Cross of Acknowledgement were founded, the authority of the Board of the Order was restricted to Lacplesis Order, the other decorations being conferred by the Kapitel of the Order. In 1940 the Occupation rule abolished the awards of Latvia. After the restoration of Latvia's independence, on 25th October 1994 the Order of the Three Stars was restored.
Lacplesis Military Order was the first and highest official award in Latvia. It was founded on the initiative of the Supreme Commander of Latvia's Army Colonel Janis Balodis. The decoration was conferred on soldiers of Latvia's Army and the former Latvian Riflemen Regiments for merit in military action as well as on foreigners who had taken part in the struggle for the liberation of Latvia or given other type of contribution to the founding and development of the state of Latvia.
The decoration had three classes: I, II and III. The person had first to be awarded the lowest, III Class before he/she could receive higher, II and I Classes of the Order respectively (this precondition did not necessarily apply to foreigners).
The medal of Lacplesis Military Order was a white enamelled fire-cross (swastica) with red and golden edging. On the medallion in the centre of the face side there was a picture of folk-hero Lacplesis wrestling with a bear. At the ends of the Cross there stood crossed swords. On the reverse side there was date 11th November 1919 in a medallion and on the hands of the cross there was engraved phrase "Par Latviju" (For Latvia). On the edges of the cross there were engraved initials H.B., which was the trademark of silversmith Hermanis Banks. The insignia of the Order consisted of a multi-ray silver star with the medal of the Order in the centre plus moiré ribbon with three red and four silvery stripes of equal width. Lacplesis Military Order was designed by J. Liberts. The holders received also a diploma designed by R. Zarins, that gave a brief description of the achievement for which the decoration had been awarded to the respective person.
11th November 1919, the date when the Army of Latvia expelled Bermondt-Avalov troops from Riga, is symbolically accepted as the foundation day of the Order. However, for the first time the decoration was awarded on 11th November 1920, after the Constitutional Assembly had passed the Law on Lacplesis Military Order (on 18th September 1920). In accordance with the 13th August 1920 resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers the first recipients of the decoration were seven highest-ranking commanders of the Army of Latvia: General Peteris Radzins, Colonels Martins Penikis, Krisjanis Berkis, Julijs Jansons and Janis Apinis and Colonel-Lieutenants Oskars Dankers and Janis Purins. These recipients were also appointed members of the Board of the Order. Later seven members of the Parliament were also accepted into the Board. They were: Janis Goldmanis, Karlis Kasparsons, Rainis, Julijs Celms, Voldemārs Zamuels, Janis Rubulis, and Markus Gailitis. The Board was chaired by the President of State. The first President to fulfil this mission was Cakste.
Issues related to the rewarding were decided by the Board of Lacplesis Military Order, chaired by the President of State. Apart from the President the Board consisted of seven members of the Parliament and seven holders of the highest classes of Lacplesis Military Order. Each concrete case was first dealt with by a specially appointed commission in each regiment of the Army. The commissions examined each concrete application, wrote a detailed description of the candidate's achievement, summarised witnesses' evidence and submitted the resulting form or list of candidates to the Minister of War who assessed it and, if it met his approval, passed it to the Board of the Order which made the final decision.
The Statutes of the Order were elaborated by A. Stalbe, a holder of Lacplesis Military Order. The Statutes consisted of 62 paragraphs describing both the procedure of the awarding, the insignia as well as the duties and rights of the holders of the decoration. The decoration had three classes and was to be awarded exclusively for military achievements on persons who had fulfilled their duty to the state by difficult and outstanding heroic deeds. Before receiving a higher class of the order, the holder first had to be awarded with the lowest. Sixty subparagraphs of the Statutes gave a detailed description of the achievements that can earn the Order.
The Statutes also described the privileges that the holder of the decoration enjoyed. They were entitled to receive insignia of the Order free of charge, to place the pictures of the decoration on their personal stamps and stationery etc., to wear military uniform during their absence from active military service and to receive medical services free of charge. The Holders of Lacplesis Military Order enjoyed privileged treatment in military training institutions and were given preference when competing with other candidates of the same qualifications for high-ranking positions in the Army of Fleet. They also were entitled to a vacation twice the normal duration and holder of a certificate of the Order could travel by rail for half the normal fee. The mortal remains of the deceased members of the Order were buried with military honours.
The first Award Ceremony of Lacplesis Military Order took place on Esplanade Square in Riga on 11th November 1920, with President Janis Cakste personally presenting the decorations. The last meeting of the Board of the Order dealing with issues pertaining to the awarding of the decoration took place on 1st November 1928. The last Award Ceremony took place in Liepaja on 11th November 1928 with the decorations being presented by President Gustavs Zemgals.
In the course of the eight years of the existence of Lacplesis Military Order decorations of the I Class were conferred on 11 persons, amonng them were Generals Janis Balodis and Krisjanis Berkis, Colonels Fridrihs Briedis and Oskars Kalpaks, Estonian General Johann Laidoner, Polish Marshal Jozef Pilsudsky, French Marshal Ferdinand Fosch, King of Italy Victor Emanuel and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and King of Belgium Albert I. 61 persons (18 Latvians and 43 foreigners) were awarded with the II Class of the Order and the III Class was conferred on 2072 persons (1600 soldiers of the national army, 202 former Latvian riflemen and 271 foreigners).
During the celebrations of 11th November 1929 the establishing of the Fellowship of the Holders of Lacplesis Military Order was suggested. The development of the Fellowship was completed on 19th November 1931 and it functioned until the Soviet occupation. The Fellowship resumed its activities in Eslingen, Germany in 1947. Later the Board of the Fellowship transferred its headquarters to USA. There were sections of the Fellowship also in the UK, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden. The Fellowship exists no longer.
Once in every five years the President of State hosted a get-together evening for the families of the holders of Lacplesis Military Order. The event included a banquet and presentation of precious gifts (such as a coffee-set decorated with the symbols of the Order). On Christmas children of the holders of Lacplesis Military Order received small gifts. As of 11th November 1933 the Fellowship of the Holders of Lacplesis issued magazine "Lacplesis".
Along with Latvians (soldiers of the Army of Latvia and Latvian riflemen) the Order has been conferred on 11 Lithuanians, 47 Germans, 15 Russians, 9 Poles, 4 Jews and 3 Belarussians. Among the holders of the III Class of the decoration there are also three women: Valija Vescunas-Jansone, Lina Canka-Freidenfelde and Elza Ziglevica. The Order has been conferred on soldiers of the Armies of Estonia, Poland, Finland, France, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, Denmark, Italy, Belgium, USA and Japan. Among the members of the Order there are not only people but also the Fortress of Verdun, which was awarded for the heroism of its defenders during the First World War. Once there were rumours abroad that Latvian riflemen were entitled to change their decorations of the tsarist Russia (the Order if St. George or the Cross of George) for Lacplesis Military Order. It is not true.