↑ Return to Supply

Challenge Coin

The History of the Challenge Coin

  • In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in solid bronze and presented them to his unit. One young pilot placed the medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore about his neck. Shortly after acquiring the medallion, the pilot’s aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck. In the meantime, he was taken to a small French town near the front. Taking advantage of a bombardment that night, he escaped. However, he was without personal identification. He succeeded in avoiding German patrols by donning civilian attire and reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man’s land. Eventually, he stumbled onto a French outpost. Saboteurs had plagued the French in the sector. They sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot’s American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to execute him. He had no identification to prove his allegiance, but he did have his leather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion to his would-be executioners and one of his French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion. They delayed his execution long enough for him to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him they gave him a bottle of wine.

Canada’s History with the Challenge Coin:

  • One of the first appearance of a challenge coin within the Canadian Forces was that of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Although conceptualized in the early 1970s, it was not officially adopted until the regiment returned from Cyprus in 1974.
  • Recognized as an “Americanism”, the widespread use of challenge coins is new to the Canadian Forces (CF) and was introduced by General Rick Hillier as the Canadian Army began to work closer with the US military. While many regiments and military establishments purchase them as ‘challenge coins’, most branches and schools within the CF use them for presentation purposes.
  • The first RCAF coin belonged to 427 Squadron. Back in the Second World War, 427 and the film studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) shared the lion as their respective symbol. During a ceremony held on 27 May 1943, a bronze statuette of a Lion was presented to the Squadron as were MGM’s coins for the Squadron members. These coins granted free access to the MGM’s theaters in Britain and were popular with aircrew and ground crew alike. In 1982, the custom was reintroduced by Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Cunningham, then the squadron commanding officer; it has since expanded widely within the RCAF Tactical Aviation community.
  • Every new officer cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, is issued a challenge coin upon completion of First-Year Orientation Period. The coin is engraved with the name of the college in French and English surrounding the college’s coat of arms on the obverse. The cadet’s college number and the Memorial Arch is on the reverse surrounded by the motto in both languages.
  • Members of the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Fund are issued challenge coins with the current RCEME badge and the member’s branch fund membership number on the obverse side, and the original pre-unification RCEME badge and branch motto on the reverse side. Usually, these are issued to craftsmen at the Canadian Forces School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, in Borden, Ontario, where branch fund membership is first offered.
  • Many of the CF training centres and staff colleges have a unique coin—some available for the students to purchase, others available only by presentation by the establishment or the commandant for exemplary achievement while attending the facility. General Walter Natynczyk, when he was chief of the Defence Staff, and the Canadian Forces chief warrant officer often present their personalized coins to deserving soldiers.
  • Police, security and fire departments have embraced the concept and have found coins to be an excellent means of team building and creating a sense of brotherhood or belonging. Many feature a patron saint, badge or representative equipment.