A Memorial to Services Rendered
The Queen Elizabeth Cross and its Predecessors
I greatly hope that the Elizabeth Cross will give further meaning to the nation’s debt of gratitude to the families and loved ones of those who have died in the service of our country. We will remember them all.” [HM the Queen]
Since the early days of regular war medal awards after the 1830s, it has been the custom to present the medals or decorations of service personnel who were killed in action, died of disease or otherwise whilst on active service to the recipient’s known next-of-kin. In a sense, these stand as official memorials to ‘services rendered’. The concept of a national award purely as a memorial for next-of-kin had to wait a great deal longer. Although some commercial memorial plaques are known for the Boer War – and quite collected as such – it was the First World War, with its unprecedented national efforts and huge casualty lists which finally pressed the authorities to award an official, national memorial.
The result was the well-known bronze Memorial Plaque and associated calligraphic scroll authorised in 1919. Covering service between 1914 – 1919 and also on the North West Frontier of India and in Iraq after the war, over 1,350,000 were eventually issued. The plaques are easily found on the market, especailly as single examples, while those with associated decorations or medals can of course fetch much more, depending upon the recipient and the circumstances of death; those to female recipients (fewer than 1,000) are very rare.
But it was a colonial government which first came up with the idea of an official wearable memorial medal. The Dominion government of Canadian authorised on 1st Dec. 1919 the issue of a distinctive ‘Memorial Cross’ in silver. The award took the form of two ‘Greek’ crosses, one superimposed upon the other, their arms joined by arcs of a laurel wreath. It carries the royal cypher, ‘GRI’, in the centre and has a Canadian maple leaf emblem on the end of each of three arms and a crown on the top arm. The reverse is plain but carries a Sterling Silver mark and the recipient’s engraved details. Somewhat unusually in the British system of medals, it was to be worn around the neck, in this case from a narrow dark purple ribbon. Most awards went to the wife or mother of the deceased person and they were be awarded in addition to the decorations, medals and Memorial Plaque to which the recipient was entitled. About 60,000 were issued.
The Canadian Memorial Cross was re-issued for 1939-45 service (about 30,000 awarded), the only alteration being the replacement of the cypher with ‘GVIR’. These are found with (most commonly) a simple ring suspension, as on the 1914-18 version, or with a straight bar suspension on awards for the Korean War and later. The post 1951 type – which is still being issued – has the bar suspension and the cypher ‘EIIR’ of the present Queen. As of 2001, the Cross can be given to up to three relatives of the deceased, so there may be more than one extant example of any particular post-war Canadian Memorial Cross.
All earlier types of the Canadian crosses are surprisingly inexpensive, depending – of course – on the rank or status of the recipient or the circumstances of death. For 1914-18 awards, they are not so commonly seen complete with the rest of the recipient’s medals and plaque – they may have gone to different relatives – and these carry premium prices, as would awards reflecting service in more recent smaller campaigns.
The South African government produced not a medal but an elaborate bronze memorial plaque, mounted on a stand, to remember its own casualties of the 1939-45 conflict. The attractive named plaques are easily available and most are inexpensive, but those for famous South African actions, or to South African aircrew or to Jewish recipients (whose plaque has the Star of David as a background) are more sought after and correspondingly expensive. As small numbered brooch of similar design was also awarded to the designated next-of-kin as a wearable token of remembrance but these are harder to find.
A second Dominion followed Canada’s example, but in the event not until much later. In 1947, the New Zealand government proposed a Memorial Cross for 1939-45 service in its forces that was almost identical to the Canadian version, down to the narrow purple neck ribbon. For various reasons, however, the issue did not proceed until August 1960. It is the same as its Canadian counterpart, except that if has the symbolic New Zealand fern leaf emblem at the tips of three arms. As with the Canadian version, the reverse is plain but has the usual engraved personal details.
The crosses continued to be awarded for conflicts after 1945 (e.g. Malaya, Korea, Vietnam etc.) and are still in use, the later awards also allowed to be claimed by more than one relative. Issues for World War Two are reasonably easy to find and quite inexpensive, again, depending on the services, rank and unit of the person commemorated, though later awards (e.g. for Vietnam) or where there were only small numbers involved can be much more expensive.
This trend or tradition of awarding Memorial Crosses was somewhat surprisingly revived in the UK in 2009 when it was announced under Prime Minister Gordon Brown that a similar award, to be known as ‘the Elizabeth Cross’ would be granted to the next of kin of those members of the British services who had been killed or died on active service or as a result of terrorist action, as a national recognition of their loss. It was estimated that as many as 8,000-10,000 could be claimed.
There has been, of course, a much greater awareness in recent years of the value of the services and sacrifices made by British forces on active service and in counter-terrorist operations – certainly reflected in terms of national coverage and rewards – with the establishment such major foundations and charities as ‘Help for Heroes’ and the continual support for the Poppy Day appeal. At the time of the institution of the ‘Elizabeth Cross’, the Queen published a message, saying :
This seems to me a right and proper way of showing our enduring debt to those who are killed while actively protecting what is most dear to us all. The solemn dignity which we attach to the names of those who have fallen is deeply engrained in our national character. As a people, we accord this ultimate sacrifice the highest honour and respect.
‘The Elizabeth Cross’ is the first award since the George Cross (1940) to carry the name of a reigning monarch. Earlier examples were, of course, the Victoria Cross and the Edward Medals. It is clearly modeled on the Canadian and New Zealand crosses, and deliberately reflects their design and intention, though it is rather more square in outline than the others. It has no associated ribbon.
Awards are back-dated to include service in post-war Palestine and are available to the families of those who died in any later operation, including the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, Cyprus, the Falklands war and Northern Ireland as well as for recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Sierra Leone and elsewhere and it will continue to be awarded.
Recipients are given two pin-back sterling silver emblems, one full size (31mm across) for formal remembrance events and one in miniature for less formal occasions. The cross, in oxidised silver, carries at the end of each arm a symbol of the United Kingdom nations – a rose, a shamrock, a thistle and a daffodil. The plain reverse is engraved with the name of the person in whose memory it is granted. The crosses are accompanied by a memorial scroll – a revival of the 1914-18 practice which was, for reasons unknown, also revived for the Korean War but not for World War Two or later conflicts. Those relatives granted the award in respect of a Korean War casualty do not receive the modern scroll.
Understandably, the awards do not occur on the market with any frequency – as recent awards they are no doubt still in the hand s of their recipients, but examples would vary greatly in value depending on the service of the person commemorated and circumstances of their death.