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First World War medal a mystery

At The Rooms in St. John’s, John Joseph Higgins points to a photo of his great, great uncle Sgt. Edmund James Higgins who was a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and who died on July 2, 1916. Higgins is trying to solve a mystery. A medal he has that he thought belonged to his great, great uncle actually belongs to another soldier from the First World War.
At The Rooms in St. John’s, John Joseph Higgins points to a photo of his great, great uncle Sgt. Edmund James Higgins who was a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and who died on July 2, 1916. Higgins is trying to solve a mystery. A medal he has that he thought belonged to his great, great uncle actually belongs to another soldier from the First World War. - Glen Whiffen

Man surprised to find that a medal he thought belonged to his great, great uncle actually belongs to another soldier

When John Joseph Higgins began working on a project to assemble the First World War service records of his great, great uncle Sgt. Edmund James Higgins, he did an Internet search for photos of the type of medals the soldier would have been awarded.

A 1914/1915 British Star medal, like the one pictured, belongs to a Pte. Alexander. John Joseph Higgins is trying to find out who Pte. Alexander is after discovering the medal in items passed down through his family.
A 1914/1915 British Star medal, like the one pictured, belongs to a Pte. Alexander. John Joseph Higgins is trying to find out who Pte. Alexander is after discovering the medal in items passed down through his family.

Sgt. Edmund James Higgins was a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and was wounded in the July 1, 1916 battle at Beaumont Hamel.

He died from his wounds the following day.

One of the medals in an online photo triggered a memory that sent Higgins searching through things long ago stored away.

“I Googled images of the three medals — The Victory Medal, The British War Medal and the 1914/1915 British Star — that he was awarded for his service and sacrifice,” Higgins, who is from St. John’s, said.

“It was at that time I realized that one of the medals — the 1914/1915 British Star — looked very familiar. After some digging, I managed to find that very medal among some items I had stored away, items that were passed down to me.

“When I looked at the medal, however, I found that it did not belong to my great, great uncle at all. Some of the information on the back of it was difficult to make out, but the name inscribed on it was ‘Pte. Alexander’.”

Higgins, himself, is a full-time member of the Canadian Armed Forces. He is a corporal in the air force and stationed at Gagetown, New Brunswick. In addition to his great, great uncle his grandfather Cpl. John Gilbert Higgins also served in the First World War. His uncle Lt. Gilbert Higgins served in the Korean Conflict.

It’s a family with a lot of connections to the armed forces.

“On July 1, 2016, I had the privilege of being at Beaumont Hamel in France for the 100th anniversary commemorations and the following day was humbled to be able to visit the grave of Sgt. Edmund James Higgins on the 100th anniversary of his passing,” Higgins said.

“As I was then, and still am, a serving member of Canada’s Air Force, I was granted permission by my chain of command to wear my military uniform for both of the events in France.”

Higgins said it was about two months after he returned from France that he started to assemble his great, great uncle’s service records into a booklet, and found the medal with “Pte. Alexander” inscribed on it.

Who was Pte. Alexander? And how did this soldier’s medal ended up in the possession of the Higgins family? And where are his great, great uncle’s actual medals?

It’s a mystery he hasn’t been able to solve yet.

He is attempting to find out and hopefully return the 1914/1915 British Star he has to the family of Pte. Alexander.

“I don’t know the story of why the medal ended up in my family. The medal came down probably through my grandfather, through my uncle and then down to me,” Higgins said. “It was just one of those things that was there. And I also have no idea what happened to my great, great uncle’s medals.”

Cpl. John Joseph Higgins visits the gravesite of his great, great uncle Sgt. Edmund James Higgins during a trip to France in July 2016.
Cpl. John Joseph Higgins visits the gravesite of his great, great uncle Sgt. Edmund James Higgins during a trip to France in July 2016.

While visiting the grave of Sgt. Edmund James Higgins at Beauval Communal cemetery, 24 km north of Amiens in France, during that July 2016 trip, Higgins noticed a grave marker of Lance Cpl. W.E. Alexander of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment not far from his great, great uncle’s grave. He took a photo of it at the time, as he did with other grave markers of Newfoundland soldiers.

He got the photo out recently thinking the medal might belong to this soldier. However, the regimental number on the medal doesn’t match that of Lance Cpl. W.E. Alexander.

A little more research into the Royal Newfoundland Regiment came up with a Pte. Alexander, a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment from Mattis Point, but that soldier’s regimental number was also different than that on the medal Higgins has.

“I have been in communication with Mr. Frank Gogos of the 1st Battalion Royal Newfoundland Regiment Museum in an attempt to enhance the information on the back of the medal, conclusively determine more information about the Pte. Alexander whom it was awarded to and possibly locate his extended family with a view towards returning it to them,” Higgins said.

In corresponding with The Telegram, however, information was found on another First World Soldier named Pte. Alexander, though he was not a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Pte. Adolph Alexander served with the United Kingdom’s 3rd Dragoon Guards (Prince of Wales’ Own). He died on March 23, 1918 and is buried at the Pozieres British Cemetery in France.

The name and his service number of 6636 matches up to what appears to be the number on the medal.

If this is the correct Pte. Alexander, then Higgins’ mystery just got a little bigger.

Higgins is hoping that Gogos and others are able to help him solve this medal mystery.

As for now, the medal is the closest thing Higgins has to help him remember his great, great uncle Sgt. Edmund James Higgins. He carried it with him while attending services on Remembrance Day.

“It is a great privilege for me to currently serve with Canada’s Armed Forces, as well as being a source of great personal pride to follow not only in my great, great uncle’s footsteps, but also my grandfather’s (Cpl. John Gilbert Higgins), in addition to my immediate uncle (Lt. Gilbert Edward Higgins) who served in Korea,” Higgins said.

“On the 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice, the importance of their service becomes even more relevant.

“I have my uncle’s Korean Conflict medals as well as my grandfather’s from the First World War. It has always been my practice to carry (but not wear) both of sets of medals on my person for Nov 11. This year, I also carried the 1914/1915 British Star in honour of my great, great uncle. Even though that particular medal is not his, it is the closest item I have which pertains to his service and ultimate sacrifice.”

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