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To wear one's decorations is to be proud to be a Belgian

The Belgian national culture has been set up by means of common values, traditions and symbols. The honorary decorations which are part of the official rewards system belong to that culture. They embody honour, bravery, merit and courage.

The National Holiday, November 11 and the King's Feast are some of those occasions at which the King and the Royal Family, the judges and the magistrates and the veterans are almost the only people wearing their decorations.

The design of the decorations has hardly changed since the 19th century and therefore they are rather uncomfortable to wear on modern clothing. If pinning the recognition of one's merits on a man's jacket is already rather difficult, you can imagine the difficulty to pin them on women's clothing.

Wearing one's decorations decently can really be an obstacle race as any documentation on this subject is lacking. Consequently it is most useful to recall some elementary rules in order to wear one's decorations in the right way.

Some elementary rules

  • In the presence of the King or a member of the Royal Family, unless other instructions have been prescribed, only the great modules of the honorary decorations are worn and never the miniature jewels nor the reduced versions with the colours of the ribbons.
  • The decorations are pinned to the left of the chest, ranged from the centre in decreasing order of importance.
  • Priority is given to the Belgian orders, spread in classes (grand-cross, grand officer, commander, officer, knight, palms and medals). There are three in decreasing order of importance: Leopold, Crown and Leopold II. Only one class per order is worn! (Tab. I)
  Officer Knight Golden Palms Silver Palms Gold Medal Silver Medal Bronze Medal
Order of Leopold (*) Not applicable
Crown de Order
Order of Leopold II Not applicable

Tab. I : 4th, 5th and 6th classes of the Belgian national orders.

(*) Only the military category, with crossed swords, is represented here. The civilian category, without crossed swords, follows the same rules.

  • Then we have the other official Belgian decorations. A decoration is official when it has been created by a law or by a royal decree (Order in Council).
  • A regulation stipulates the order in which the military have to wear their decorations (Tab. II). If they are no longer cited, the Second World War decorations and the Korean War decorations naturally have priority.
1. Military decorations for exceptional services or for bravery or act of devotion (1st and 2nd classes)
2. Military Cross (1st and 2nd classes).     
3. Military decoration for seniority (1st and 2nd classes).     
4. Cross of Honour for military service abroad (1st and 2nd and 3rd classes).     
5. Commemorative medal for armed humanitarian operation + bar on the ribbon.
6. Commemorative medal for an operation or a mission abroad. The retired military are allowed to wear on the ribbon maximum three bars with the name of the missions they participated in, provided that those bars have been attributed before September 17, 2004. In all other cases, the number of missions (> 1) the person participated in is indicated on the ribbon by a bronze Arabic numeral 9 mm high.
7. Medal of merit. No bar has been officially prescribed to be worn on the ribbon.
8. Commemorative medal of the Army marches (MESA and the four day march of the Yser). Though these are not decorations, wearing these medals is authorized until December 31 of the year following that of the participation or in a permanent way from 3 participations onward.     

Tab. II : Belgian military decorations.

  • - A similar list also exists for the civilian decorations (Tab. III).
A Carnegie Hero Fund Medals
- Gold, silver and bronze
B Civilian decorations for acts of bravery or devotion.
- 1st and 2nd class Cross     
- 1st, 2nd and 3rd class Medal         
C Civilian decorations for administration services seniority
- 1st and 2nd class Cross     
- 1st, 2nd and 3rd class Medals         
- 1st and 2nd class Cross for fireman's services     
- 1st and 2nd class Medal for fireman's services         
D Decorations for labour
- 1st and 2nd class     
E Special decorations
- Health insurance fund, 1st and 2nd class     
- Cooperation, 1st and 2nd class     
- Social provision, 1st and 2nd class     
- Professional union, 1st and 2nd class     
- Agricultural, 1st and 2nd class     
F Honour insignia of Labour Laureate
1st, 2nd and 3rd class  

Tab. III : main Belgian civilian decorations.

Special cases

  • The veterans who are holder of both military and civilian decorations will give priority to their military decorations putting forward respectively those for acts of bravery or devotion, those for the Second World War and the Korean War, those for seniority and finally the other decorations.
  • The official foreign orders are worn in chronological order of attribution next to the Belgian national orders. The other official foreign decorations are worn in chronological order of attribution next to the official Belgian decorations.

Allowances and prohibitions

  • Wearing a foreign order must be allowed by the King. The foreign orders are worn next to the Belgian and according to the date of attribution. No military in service is allowed to wear a foreign decoration without a royal authorization.
  • The Belgian decorations which have not been created by law of royal decree are not officially recognized, even if they have been established by another official authority (region, province, town, municipality…), by an acknowledged institution (Red Cross, fire brigade service…) or by a patriotic, philanthropic or other association. Wearing them next to all other decorations is however allowed, except for the military in active service, providing there can be no confusion with the official decorations. The holders of official decorations will only wear them at events directly related to the institution that decorated them.
  • The decorations of international organizations to which Belgium adheres (NATO, European Union, OSCE,) are assimilated to Belgian decorations but are worn next to them.

The illustrations below are mainly drawn from the regulation for military dress (DGHR-REG-DISPSYS-001) of February 20, 2006 and from the documentation of the press service (SPF) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We also want to thank the TOULET – VAN BAEL society for authorizing us to use certain pictures published on their Internet website and Lieutenant Colonel GS Eric TRIPNAUX for his technical advice.

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