Serving in the army is absolutely something to be proud of. Different branches and different nations have their ways of showing their pride. For instance, the Navy usually get different tattoos with various symbols and meaning. The Army’s Special Forces soldiers have their unique headgear. The Queen’s Guards in the United Kingdom have their bearskin hats. During World War I, the German soldiers had a different way of showing that they were true warriors, and instead of something extravagant or showy, they chose the meek edelweiss flowers.

Edelweiss Flowers

Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum). Chme82CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also known as Leontopodium alpinum, edelweiss is a perennial plant of the family Asteraceae, native to the Alps and South America. Each cluster is usually composed of two to ten yellow flower heads, and below are six to nine lance-shaped, woolly, white leaves arranged like a star. Its German name is a combination of two words, “noble” and “white.” And because it’s native in the Alps, these beautiful and delicate flowers usually grow at 10,000 feet above sea level, which means you will need to hike quite far to find and get one.

German Troops Hike To Get Them

So German troops would drag their weapons along with them, climb straight up the mountain, even risk their lives to find these little white flowers. When somebody hands you this flower, you’ll know that they spent time and effort in hiking just to gather and bring them. In fact, even the Swiss young men in the 19th century would risk their lives to collect edelweiss to give them as a gift to their brides as a sign of purity.

The Commemorative Edelweiss

Mountain cap of the mountain troops.

In 1915, the Commemorative Edelweiss badge became the first officially introduced special German insignia for division or corps personnel. According to Antique Photos, “Edelweiss badge of the Alpine Corps had a shape of a flower of perennial mountain plant Leontopodium alpinum that is distributed mainly in remote rocky limestone areas and has been widely used as a national symbol of alpinism in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Another rare pattern of the badge that is occasionally seen in photos had a shape of a flower with stem and leaves, thus resembling Third Reich-era mountain troops’ insignia. Judging from period photos, officers wore “full-size Edelweiss” like a cloth badge while other ranks attached metal badge.” They gave this badge to Alpine Corps soldiers who fought in Tyrol between July and October 1915. Hence, the badge was always associated with the front in the Alps. It was worn on the left side of the cap attached to the flap of field peaked cap or on the round visorless field cap for other ranks.

Army Mountain Guide Badge

German Army Mountain Guide Badge, 1936-45. German WehrmachtCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The flower was also seen in the Army Mountain Guide Badge, a military badge given to experienced Gebirgsjager (light infantry part of the Alpine or mountain troops) mountain guides during the Third Reich. It was a tombac-plated iron pin-back badge in the shape of an oval. Its center is a silver edelweiss flower gilt center. It was to be worn on or below the left-hand breast pocket on the soldier’s uniform. This badge was given to those who acted as a guide for one year. However, it had been discontinued since 1945.

Today, the modern German Army still issues a Mountain Proficiency Badge in three categories, bronze, silver and gold bearing the edelwiess. It might surprise you to know that this badge is also worn by American soldiers who have gone through alpine training with their Bundeswehr counterparts.

Regardless, the edelweiss flower, for the German troops, is a sign of their bravery and mark of being a true soldier.