After World War I, the territory of Latvia was controlled by the German military, but despite this, Latvians managed, on November 18, 1918, to establish their own, independent country.  Sadly, the Red Army from Soviet Russia invaded just two days later, and that launched the Latvian War of Independence, which lasted for nearly two years. During this difficult time, on July 10, 1919, the Latvian Army was formed.

Latvia's victory in this war is commemorated on November 11, because it was on that that date in 1919 that Latvian forces, with artillery support from French and British ships in the Gulf of Rīga, managed to beat a volunteer army from western Russia and to liberate Rīga.  Writing about this fact in the newspaper Jaunākās Ziņas (Latest News), the author Kārlis Skalbe compared the battle to that waged by Lāčplēsis, a legendary hero described in an epos by Andrejs Pumpurs.  Lāčplēsis' enemy in the battle was the Black Knight, and Skalbe wrote that soldiers from Latvia's military had "the spirit of Lāčplēsis." The date has been commemorated as Lāčplēsis Day ever since to honour those who fell in battle during the independence war, to present military orders and to symbolically light candles on the walls of the Rīga Castle on the banks of the Daugava River.

The Latvian Army was shut down when the Soviet Union occupied the country on June 17, 1940.  The structure of the Latvian National Armed Forces could be reinstituted more than 50 years later – on December 24, 1994, when the Defence Forces and the Home Guard were merged.  The Home Guard remains the largest part of Latvia's defence system and illustrates the readiness and will of the country's residents to defend their own land.  Ten years later, in 2004, Latvia joined NATO.  In 2007, the last conscripted soldiers completed their tour of duty.  Latvia has had a fully professional military service ever since then.

Photo: Ilmārs Znotiņš