A special Legion medal worn by King Edward VIII in 1936 at the unveiling of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France has been acquired by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
The medal, which had been in the estate of Wallis Simpson, the woman the king gave up his throne in order to marry, was sold by Sotheby’s in London, England for about $20,000.
It was officially accepted into the war museum’s collection in a ceremony on Jan. 20 in The Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour in front of a 1937 painting of the unveiling by Georges Bertin Scott. In the seven-foot-high canvas, The Unveiling of the Vimy Memorial, the king stands in the foreground wearing a grey morning coat with his own war medals on his left side. The pilgrimage medal can be clearly seen on his right side.
The Vimy Pilgrimage was organized by the Legion. Five cruise ships carried more than 4,000 people to France and Belgium for the unveiling of Walter Allward’s mammoth sculpture which bears the names of 11,285 Canadians who were declared “missing, presumed dead” in France.
All Canadian veterans and their families attending were presented with the Canadian Legion Vimy Pilgrimage Medal by the Legion. A total of 8,000 medals were cast in bronze by the well-known badge maker, J.R. Gaunt & Son. Five replicas were cast in gold. This one was given to Edward. The others were given to Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, the president of France, the king of Belgium and Walter Allward. Mackenzie King’s medal is now in the collection of Library and Archives Canada.
The unveiling of the monument is one of the few large public events attended by Edward who became king upon the death of his father, George V, on Jan. 20, 1936. Edward would abdicate on Dec. 11 after just 11 months as monarch.
The medal was purchased with the support of the Vimy Foundation. The Montreal-based foundation was founded in 2005 with the purpose of preserving and promoting the legacy of Canada’s contribution to the First World War. The foundation also received a donation in support of the purchase from John McCall MacBain.
“Socrates said know yourself, but the Vimy Foundation believes one should know one’s past,” said foundation founder and president emeritus Andrew Powell at the presentation. “The Battle of Vimy Ridge is an inspiration, meticulously planned and performed with great courage. It is hoped this medal will help make young Canadians more aware of its role in the First World War. ”
Museum Director Mark O’Neill said that in today’s world it is important to have tangible objects, such as this medal, which can help tell Canada’s history. The Legion was represented at the ceremony by Dominion Vice-President George O’Dair and Director of Administration Steven Clark.
The medal is suspended from a ribbon with the Legion colours. Two blue stripes flank one gold stripe, with a bar which reads, “Canadian Legion 1936.” The Legion was not granted the title Royal Canadian Legion until 1960. The medal itself features an image of the two towers of the Vimy Memorial encircled by poppies and the words “Vimy Pilgrimage.”