Oxford RSA member Rhonda Graham-van Rooden, with the Memorial Plaque or ‘Dead Man’s Penny’

Search for a soldier’s family

by Mike Isle

A wartime memorial plaque found during a house renovation has led to the Oxford RSA searching for any living family or relatives of Private Robert Joseph Crossen, who died in France 101 years ago.

Private Crossen’s serial number was 46559, and he served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Canterbury Regiment, First Battalion and died on December 3, 1917.

“I believe Robert is listed on the Leeston Cenotaph,” says Oxford RSA member, Rhonda Graham-van Rooden.

“We have in our possession the Memorial Plaque also known as the Dead Man’s Penny, issued after the first world war to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed. This bears Robert Joseph Crossen’s name, and I am hoping to reunite this with any living members of the serviceman’s family, hopefully on November 11.”

On the Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph database, Robert was listed as a labourer before enlistment. His mother was Mrs Ellen Crossen (nee Scully), of 24 Hastings Street, Sydenham, Christchurch. His brother George Lawrence Crossen died in 1919 and is buried in the Lincoln Cemetery, Selwyn District.

Robert is listed on the Buttes New British Cemetery (NZ) Memorial, Polygon Wood, at Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, which commemorates 378 officers and men of the New Zealand Division who died in the Polygon Wood sector between September 1917 and May 1918, who have no known grave.

The ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ bearing Crossen’s name

A death notice for Private Crossen in 1918 states:

CROSSEN — In loving memory of Private Robert Joseph Crossen, 25th Reinforcements, sixth son of Ellen and the late Thomas Crossen of Rolleston, killed in action in France, December 3rd, 1917; aged 27 years. RIP.

Inserted by his loving mother, sisters and brothers.

“As Robert was the sixth son, hopefully, his other brothers or sisters had families, and a link can be found there,” Ms Graham-van Rooden says.

“The Oxford RSA will be holding a service at the Oxford Cenotaph on November 11, and if we could locate any family, we could return the plaque to this serviceman’s long-lost family. I can be contacted at mobile 0274767657 or email grahden@farmside.co.nz.”