Spende für Kriegsgräber “Ich hatt einen Kameraden”, a.k.a. Eisenmedaille

Commemorative token in recognition for donations for war graves “I Had a Comrade”, a.k.a. “Iron Medal”

This token was instituted in 1919, soon after the Great War came to its end and was given to Germans who donated funds for erection and beautification of graves of those fallen for their Fatherland in 1914-1918.  

In a sense institution of this badge echoed large-scale patriotic campaign “I Give Gold for Iron” (“Gold gab ich für Eisen”) that spread in German Empire three years earlier, in 1916. The main aim then was to collect gold, i.e. jewellery from population for war needs and the slogan “Gold I Give for War, Iron I Take for Honor” (“Gold gab ich zur Wehr, Eisen nahm ich zur Ehr”) was widely propagated. Various patriotic items made of iron were manufactured including badges, tokens, medals, rings, brooches, pendants and chains of various design. Internal bonds issued by Reichsbank and letters of commendations were presented to donors as well.

Not just individuals but private and government institutions were encouraged to exchange gold for iron as well. 

Being voluntary in nature, a considerable social pressure for that campaign has been generated though: wearing of jewelry in public was deemed unpatriotic.

This commemorative token was designed by a German sculptor professor Hermann Kurt Hosaeus (06.05.1875 – 26.04.1958).

Its obverse bears an image of a helmeted German soldier in field gear armed with a carbine, with his left leg resting on a stone. He holds a branch in his left hand and touches a small tree with his right hand. A semi-circular inscription “I Had a Comrade” (“Ich hatt einen Kameraden”) in capital letters is situated on the upper part of the obverse.

This legend is the first line of the traditional German military lament “The Good Comrade” (“Der gute Kamerad”) widely known just as “Ich hatt einen Kameraden”. Its text was written by the German poet Johann Ludwig “Louis” Uhland (26.04.1787 – 13.11.1862) in 1809, and the composer Philipp Friedrich Silcher (27.06.1789 – 26.08.1860) set it to music in 1825.

Here’s an original German text:

Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden,
Einen bessern findst du nit.
Die Trommel schlug zum Streite,
Er ging an meiner Seite
In gleichem Schritt und Tritt.

Eine Kugel kam geflogen:
Gilt’s mir oder gilt sie dir?
Sie hat ihn weggerissen,
Er liegt zu meinen Füßen
Als wär's ein Stück von mir.

Will mir die Hand noch reichen,
Derweil ich eben lad’.
“Kann dir die Hand nicht geben,
Bleib du im ew’gen Leben
Mein guter Kamerad!”

And here’s an English translation:

I once had a comrade,
You won't find a better one.
The drum was rolling for battle,
He was marching by my side
In the same pace and stride.

A bullet flew towards us
Meant for you or for me?
It did tear him away,
He lies at my feet
Like he was a part of me.

He wants to reach his hand to me,
While I'm just reloading my gun.
“Can't give you my hand for now,
You rest in eternal life
My good comrade!”

Reverse of a token has a horizontal inscription in capital letters running in seven rows: “Those who have received this token of iron have helped with the adornment of resting paces of our brave ones” (“Am / Schmuck der / Ruhestaetten / unserer Tapferen / half wer dieses / Eisenzeichen nahm”). Oak branch is placed lower, and name of the designer (“Hosaeus”) is struck at the very bottom

Commemorative token has a form of a round medal with a semi-circular raised portion for a ring suspension. Its dimensions are 37,1 x 33,3 mm.

Spende für Kriegsgräber “Ich hatt einen Kameraden” was made of iron with black finish.

Its 30 mm wide ribbon was black and had two wide vertical white stripes.

Eisenmedaille 1