Token “To the Valiant Warrior of the Karelian Front” is remarkable being the very first commemorative distinction of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). To start with, it’s worth stressing once again that this award wasn’t actually a badge but a commemorative token confirming participation of its holder in armed conflict with East Karelian separatists who revolted against the young Bolshevik state in 1921-1922 to gain independence from the RSFSR.
It was Edvard Otto Wilhelm Gylling (30.11.1881-14.06.1938), chairman of the regional executive committee of the Karelian Labour Commune and Central Committee of the Finnish Communist Party member, who supported respective application submitted by so-called “Red commanders”, i.e. commanding officers of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army (RKKA). As a result of Gylling’s efforts, presentation of a special token to all participants of military conflict in Karelia was stipulated in the Decree of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic (RVSR), the supreme military authority of the RSFSR, No.428 of February 19, 1922. The latter described in details solemn ceremony of greeting RKKA units who were returning home from the battlefield.
Thus, token “To the Valiant Warrior of the Karelian Front” was instituted by the Decree of the RVSR No.570 of March 05, 1922. The document particularly stated that “an honor to wear token is granted to all the Red Army military personnel and servicemen who took part in crushing of White Finnish gangs who invaded Karelian territory”. Please be advised that in Soviet historiography the notion “White Finnish” related to counter-revolutionary, i.e. anti-Bolshevik units, by analogy with the “White Army” – a loose confederation of anti-Communist forces that fought the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War (1917-1923) and, to a lesser extent, continued their operations as clandestine organizations both outside and within borders of the USSR in 1920s and even 1930s.
The Soviet-Finnish Conflict 1921-1922, also known in the USSR as the East Karelian Uprising and “Karelian Adventure” saw participation of 9,000 soldiers approximately from the following units: 379th Rifle Regiment of the 127th Rifle Brigade, Brigade of 56th Rifle Division, 87th and 88th Rifle Regiments, ski unit of the United International Military School cadets under command of its head Alexander Inno (Kuldiver) and detached ski unit under command of Toivo Antikainen. Token “To the Valiant Warrior of the Karelian Front” was particularly presented to the whole military personnel of two ski units and 379th Rifle Regiment. However, according to historical literature, delayed decorations with the token in 1928, 1931 and even 1934 occurred as well.
The token had a shape of a vertical oval with its outside perimeter surrounded by a wide wreath made of laurel leaves on the left and oak leaves on the right. Both branches were joined together with a ribbon bow at the bottom. Red enameled five-point star with each arm bearing divergent rays topped the badge. Gilt plough and hammer, an early Soviet emblem, was situated inside a gilt circle in the very centre of the star. Silver-colored fancy shield with raised border, resembling German heraldic shield, was superimposed on the centre of the token. The shield bore a low-quality inscription running in four horizontal lines in raised letters: “To the Valiant Warrior of the Karelian Front” (“Честному воину Карельского фронта”). Two crossed Mosin-Nagant M1891 rifles of silver colour with barrels pointing upwards were situated behind the shield.
Being produced by several manufacturers and sometimes even artisan workshops, tokens from the 1920s era differed in certain details, e.g. in shape of wreath and star. Some pieces had red-painted stars instead of red-enameled ones.
Here is description of two major variants of the token “To the Valiant Warrior of the Karelian Front”.
Firstly, tokens with different type of the star bearing an emblem of hammer and sickle inside a circle are known to exist. That star with narrow arms was actually “a Red Army badge for the star on the RKKA headgear” introduced by the Decree of the RVSR No.1691 of July 11, 1922. It replaced star with an obsolete emblem bearing plough and hammer, the latter being abolished by the Decree of the RVSR No.953 of April 13, 1922 as not corresponding to the RSFSR coat of arms. This type of the token supposedly manufactured of silver in the beginning of 1930s in jewelry shops was privately purchased by commanding officers who fought in Karelia a decade ago.
Second type of tokens had central superimposed shields with inscription executed in pre-reform, or Tsarist spelling (“Карельскаго” instead of “Карельского”) and bearing a full stop symbol (“.”) at its end: “Честному воину Карельскаго фронта.”.
Token “To the Valiant Warrior of the Karelian Front” was worn on the left side of the breast and was attached to the tunic either with screw soldered to the reverse and round nut, or vertical pin and catching hook, depending on holder’s preferences. Photographic evidence shows that many awardees preferred to wear token attached to a “revolutionary” round rosette made of red silk. Quite rare variant of wearing token was to sew it to the tunic through two holes made on reverse on each side of the shield. Decorations had no serial numbers at their reverses.
The badge measuring 37-38x55-56,4 mm and weighing 20 g approximately was manufactured of light-colored bronze.
Token “To the Valiant Warrior of the Karelian Front” was issued without any award document, but corresponding entries certifying legal decoration and right to wear the badge were made into Red Army soldiers’ books for enlisted personnel and Service Record for commanding officers.