Friday, 23 July 2010

A "Memorial Cross"

In February I was sent a First World War 'Memorial Cross' by a kind person in County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland into whose possession it had come. The Cross is illustrated above, though the one I was sent had lost its ribbon and had been attached to a bracelet of eight silver three-penny pieces. This Cross, a gift of the Monarch of Canada, has been given during the reigns of King George V, King George VI and the present Queen Elizabeth. It has been issued as a memento of personal loss and sacrifice on the part of widows and mothers of Canadian sailors and soldiers who laid down their lives for their country during war. Its official description is as follows:

"The Cross will be a Cross patonce in silver suspended by a purple ribbon; at the end of the upright a crown; at the foot, and at the centre, within a wreath of laurel, the royal cypher. It will be engraved with the number, rank and name of the soldiers commemorated".

The word 'patonce' means having the arms growing broader and floriated towards the end. A famous example is the Fleur-de-lis Cross. The royal cypher on the Memorial Cross issued after the First World War is "G.R.I." Full details can be obtained from the Honours and Awards Section, Veterans Affairs Canada, in Ottawa.

The Memorial Cross, more often referred to as the Silver Cross was first instituted by an Order -in-Council dated December 1, 1919. It went to the next of kin, in the case of the one I was sent, to Mary Ellen, the wife of 781528 Pte. J.H. McIlhagga. John Hutchison McIlhagga was killed at Passchendale on 26th October 1917. Recipients are allowed to wear them at any time, even though they themselves are not veterans.

The person who sent the Cross to me asked me to find a near relative of 'John H' who would cherish it and eventually pass it on. As far as I know John Hutchison and Mary Ellen did not have any children, so I set out to find out whether there are any existing offspring of his siblings. Given the time lapse since 1919 I though it rather unlikely that any were still alive, but by good fortune, with the help of a cousin in Ottawa, I have found the person who is I think his only existing nephew, a son of John Hutchison's youngest brother, Joseph McKee McIlhagga. And fortuitously he also lives in Canada, and today I have sent the medal off to him. I am pleased to say that he has a daughter to whom I am sure one day he will be able to pass it on and who also will cherish it.

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