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Webmatters : Memorial cross to the 15th Battalion CEF at Écurie : The Celtic cross

15th Bn Canadian Infantry

The adoption of the Celtic cross as a grave marker

The familiar form of a cross and circle has been associated with the Irish and Scots for centuries. There is no doubt that for heavy, intricate stone crosses that the circle adds support to the arms. Whether it is purely decorative or has a deeper meaning is open to interpretation.

Various 48th Highlander's crosses

The graves of Lt Colonel W Marshall and Lieutenant E Botterell at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery
Corporal W Faultless at Railway Dugouts Cemetery, note that it is a copy of Botterell’s

In late 1915 whilst in the line near Ploegsteert, Belgium, the 15th Battalion adopted a Celtic style cross to be used for the grave markers of its fallen, in those circumstances where such markers could be erected. The Celtic pattern adopted is understandable considering the battalion’s lineage to the 48th Highlanders and that Regiment’s strong Scots identity.

The first recorded known use of the cross is found at the largest of the rear area cemeteries which was Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery near Poperinge, Belgium. There is a period photograph of the grave of Lt Col William Marshall DSO (Commanding Officer of the 15th Battalion) who was killed at Hill 60 on 19th May 1916.

The 15th Bn CEF cross inscription in Maison Blanche

The words on the carving are now very faint, thankfully we have a record

In the Maison Blanche tunnel there is a carving made by soldiers of the 15th Battalion in memory of three of their comrades who had been killed on 12th March as the battalion went back into the line :
  • Private James MacPhail, Villers Station Cemetery, Grave : VII E 24
  • Private Thomas Milliken, Villers Station Cemetery, Grave : VII E 25
  • Private Jack McKague, Villers Station Cemetery, Grave : VII E 23
The cross in what is believed to be CA 35

The carving clearly depicts the 15th Battalion’s cross as it was erected in the cemetery, though which depiction inspired which would be difficult to say.

Proposed design for 15th Bn CEF graves

In 1918 the units within the Canadian 3rd Brigade (and no doubt everybody else as well) were asked to submit their ideas for regimental headstones. The design put forward by the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders) incorporated a Celtic cross. That style of cross having already been used in private memorials for, fallen members, back in Canada.

As we now know the decision was taken to have all soldiers marked by a similar headstone — those we see today.