A “most cherished souvenir”: A Request for a Memorial (Silver) Cross

On May 4, 1950, a letter was written to the Department of Veterans Affairs the illuminates the pride of service of a soldier of the 18th Battalion. This letter brings into relief the role of memory and how it shaped a family in bereavement as they wished to have tangible recognition of a loved one’s military service.

Memorial (Silver) Cross

Lance-Corporal Eugene Lepage died on January 12, 1950, and after his death his wife made an appeal to the Government to receive a Memorial (Silver) Cross[i], though Lance-Corporal Lepage had not been killed in action or died of wounds received due to service.

His service to his country started at Windsor, Ontario on February 12, 1914. He was an 18th Battalion ‘Original’ with the regimental number of 54202. He joined just over a month prior to the Battalion’s departure to England so his exposure to military life before being wrenched from familiar surroundings was short and he went to England and was one of the first men to go absent without leave as he received a day’s forfeiture of pay for being absent sometime prior to May 19, 1915. He, again, was absent for 6-days in September 1915, only 12-days prior to the Battalion’s embarkation to France and front-line service in Belgium.

It appears that, the then Private Lepage, was having trouble adapting to military life as he was given 5 days Field Punishment No. 2 awarded on October 23, 1915, for being absent for a “Ration Parade” and then a much more serious offence occurred on April 25, 1916, when he was absent from the trenches from 6 PM that date until 11:00 PM on April 26 for a total of 29 hours. This earned him 21-days Field Punishment No. 1 on May 5, 1916.

His service improved and this improvement in attitude was formally recognized by the Battalion as he was appointed Lance-Corporal on July 18, 1916, as Lance-Corporal C. McCarron[ii] was promoted, lance-corporal.

Lance-Corporal Lepage was to miss the “big show” at Vimy Ridge as, on February 28, 1917, he was admitted to No. 6 Canadian Field Ambulance with severe myalgia. This condition necessitated a course of medical treatment that took him to England and this condition was diagnosed on June 8, 1917, as rheumatic fever. After a spell at the 2nd Canadian Convalescent Depot at Hastings, it appeared apparent to the military authorities that Lance-Corporal Lepage would not be able to continue in active service and it was determined that he be discharged from service. He was struck of strength in England in November 1917 and was shipped to Canada where he was discharged in Toronto, Ontario on January 21st, 1918, with a notation that his “conduct and character” during service was “Very Good”.

His service record shows that he was married on May 17, 1920 and lived at 273 Hudson Street, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario [iii]as of 1921 and listed his trade as a pipe fitter.

Having passed at the age of 58-years old his family’s perception of the importance of his service and his military experience is expressed succinctly in the letter his wife sent to the Department of Veterans Affairs 4-months after his death:

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
May 4, 1950
File no. D.V.A. 54202 (R3d)

Dear Sir,
In reply to your letter of May 2, 1950[i] regarding the issue of a Silver Memorial Cross in memory of my deceased husband it would be the most cherished souvenir of my life and also his bereaved children and I hope with all my heart, that you will grant me one of these crosses to wear with pride and also as a remembrance to my late husband, 54202 L/Cpl. Eugen Lepage.

Yours truly,
Mrs. Florence Lepage.

Reverse side of Card (Notes made apparently by Veterans Affairs)
Date of Marriage 17th May, 1920
Name and Address of late soldiers Mother.
Mrs. Estelle Lepage
331 Cathcart St.
Sault Ste. Marie Ont

Per the service record of L/Cpl. Eugene Lepage, reg. no. 54202

The letter simply states how important the Silver Cross would be to her and her family, but it tells us more about the impact of Lepage’s military service. 32-years had passed since her husband had been discharged and, yet, the need for a symbol of his service, one to which is given to the family for death attributable to military service so long after the war, was of vital importance to Florence. She had made an initial inquiry sometime prior to May 2, 1950, as this letter is in response to a letter sent by the DVA on May 2, 1950. She wastes no time responding as this letter is dated 2-days after receiving the letter. It is a simple, heartfelt request for something that “would be the most cherished souvenir of my life”.

The DVA did issue a Memorial (Silver) Cross, in response to the letter, but the outcome was not as expected for the wife, Mrs. Florence Lepage.

The issuance of a Memorial (Silver) Cross to her was not permitted. Corporal Lepage was not married to her at the time of his military service, and as such, the decoration could not be issued to her, which would have been an obvious and sad outcome given that “most cherished souvenir of my life” for her.

Card showing Memorial (Silver) Cross being issued to Lance-Corporal Lepage’s mother.

But there would be a Cross issued. Corporal Lepage’s mother, who appears to be still alive at the time of this request, was eligible and the Cross was despatched to his mother, Mrs. Estelle Lepage residing at 331 Cathcart Street, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on June 29, 1950.

Though the outcome was not to Florence’s expectation, the family was granted a Memorial (Silver) Cross in recognition of Lance-Corporal Lepage’s service and sacrifice over the 1,074 days of his service. This service was a significant part of his identity and the letter from his wife, after his passing, is evidence of the strength of the memory of his service was to him and his surviving family of which the short letter expresses so very well. If Lance-Corporal Lepage’s mother had not survived him there would have been a good chance they would not have issued the medal as it would circumvent the regulations at that time, in respect to its issuance.

One imagines the relief the family felt when the medal was received and can see it mounted in a display case at one of the homes, proudly symbolizing the service of Lance-Corpral Lepage. One wonders if it still is a “most cherished souvenir” for the Lepage family and its descendants.

[1] McCarron, Clive:  Service no. 4005221.

[2] Note that this page related the current regulations for the issuance of this award and not those at the time of Florence’s letter.

[3] It appears that this address is now where Downey Park is located.

[4] It appears that Mrs. Lepage has dated this response referencing the date she received the letter from the DVA, not the date they wrote it.

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