Soldier’s family search succeeds
by Paul Campbell
More than a century after a New Zealand soldier was killed in action at Ypres in Belgium, a British government memorial plaque has found its way back to his family, after an extensive search.
The plaque, known as the Dead Man’s Penny, or Widow’s Penny was sent to the family of Private Robert Joseph Crossen, 1st Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment, and received by his mother Ellen, in 1923.
Robert was 27, unmarried, the sixth son of Thomas and Ellen Crossen. His is one of many bodies never recovered, commemorated on the Buttes Memorial at Polygon Wood in Belgium, along with 377 officers and men of the New Zealand Division who died in the area and who have no known grave. In New Zealand, Robert Crossen is remembered on the Rolleston Roll of Honour.
“His mother, Ellen, received the plaque in 1923 and it is not clear what happened to it until newlywed Judy Challis moved into an old house in New Brighton in 1963 and found it wrapped in old newspaper in the hot water cupboard,” said Oxford RSA member Rhonda Graham-van Rooden.
“Challis cherished the memorial plaque, carefully looking after it for 50 years until she saw a newspaper article about a similar plaque being reunited with lost family. She gave it to her sister, Angela Lyons, a member of the Oxford RSA. and I took up the challenge to reunite it with the Crossen family.”
Rhonda carried out extensive research and publicity, and her efforts were featured in a recent edition of The Record and rewarded when retired army major, Ian Martyn, of Medals Reunited NZ, became aware of the story. He was able to track down Robert’s grand-nephew David Crossen.
“David’s grandfather John James Crossen and Robert were brothers,” said Rhonda.
“Well, we hit the jackpot! Thanks to your article in The Record a relative, Tracey Peoples, came forward and contacted me and at the same time, I was given a contact for Ian Martyn. Once again thank you for your help and for being part of this successful search.”
The plaque was finally reunited with the Crossen family when it was handed over to David Crossen by Rhonda Graham-van Rooden on Armistice Day, November 11, at the Oxford Cenotaph.