Eligibility For Memorial Cross Expanded

March 14, 2009 by Tom MacGregor

The familiar Memorial Cross, commonly called the Silver Cross, worn by mothers and widows of sailors, soldiers and airmen killed in service can now be given to more individuals with changes to the regulations announced Jan. 15.

The revisions will recognize the families of all Canadian Forces members who have died or die as a result of military service whether it be from combat, an accident or other cause after Oct. 6, 2001, with the grant of up to three Memorial Crosses.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson announced the changes which they say will reflect the sacrifices made in the campaign against terrorism.

“The change ensures the families of our fallen CF members, since the beginning of the current campaign, receive the full expression of sorrow and sympathy for their loss,” said MacKay.

Every year since 1950 The Royal Canadian Legion has chosen a Silver Cross mother or widow to place a wreath on behalf of mothers at the National War Memorial during the national Remembrance Day ceremony.

The 2008 Silver Cross mother was Avril Stachnik of Waskatenau, Alta. Her son, Sergeant Shane Stachnik of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, was killed Sept. 3, 2006, in Afghanistan during a firefight in Operation Medusa.

Dominion President Wilf Edmond said he was pleased to see that the awarding of the Silver Cross continues to develop with the passing of time.

When death is clearly attributable to service such as in the case of direct enemy fire or an accident during training, the cross is to be issued immediately. When the death is not clearly attributable to service such as natural death while at work, fatal illness or suicide, the crosses will not be issued until an official determination regarding the cause of death is made. A delay of several months can be expected.

The Memorial Cross was created in 1919 to commemorate the dead of the First World War. The original cross bore the cipher of King George V and was worn around the neck from a 750-milimetre long, 11-millimetre wide purple ribbon. Purple stands for suffering and was used by the makers of stained glass windows to represent negation, mourning and death.

The cross itself is made of sterling silver and is a 75 per cent scale model of the Military Cross measuring 32 millimetres by 32 millimetres. On the upper arm is the Imperial Crown and on the other arms, a maple leaf.  A smaller St. George Cross is superimposed on the larger cross with the Royal Cipher at the centre in raised letters.

The Memorial Cross was reinstituted in August 1940 for the Second World War with the cipher of King George VI in the centre. In 1945 regulations were modified so the cross could be worn as a brooch instead of around the neck.

During the Korean War the cross was revived a second time and later bore the cipher of Queen Elizabeth II and it is this version which is issued today. More than 60,000 Memorial Crosses were issued for each of the two world wars.

In January 2007, eligibility was expanded to cover all service-related deaths and not just those that occurred on overseas missions. At the same time, members were allowed to select up to three recipients should death occur.

In Canada the Memorial Cross was awarded to a widower for the first time in May 2006. Jason Beam received the cross after his wife, Captain Nichola Goddard, was killed in combat in Afghanistan.

The changes announced in January this year make those changes retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001.

The cross is presented in a black leatherette box with a gold Royal Crown on the lid. Inside is a cream-coloured card which says, “This Memorial Cross is presented to you on behalf of Her Majesty’s Canadian Government in memory of one who died in the service of Canada. Lest We Forget.”

Although the crosses have been manufactured by private jewellers in the past, they are now manufactured by the Royal Canadian Mint.

A replica of the Memorial Cross hangs above the door to the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower in the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings. It is also depicted in bronze with the three different ciphers at three of the four corners of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In August last year Governor General Michaëlle Jean announced the creation of the Sacrifice Medal for those who are wounded or killed under honourable circumstances as a direct result of hostile actions (Governor General Announces Medal For The Wounded, November/December).

However, those members of the Canadian Forces who were killed in accidents or because of negligence of another would not be awarded the medal. After a controversy broke out, MacKay appealed to the honours policy committee, a multi-departmental board that overseas the rules for federal orders to reconsider its criteria. A presentation ceremony in Ottawa planned for November was subsequently postponed to another date.

Veterans Affairs Canada administers the Memorial Crosses issued for those members who died or retired before Oct. 7, 2001. More information can be obtained by calling 613-995-5003 or 1-877-995-5003.

The Department of National Defence’s Directorate of Honours and Recognition is responsible for the administration of the Memorial Cross for serving members who die after Oct. 6, 2001. More information is available at 613-949-0429 or 1-877-741-8332.

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