December 15, 2023
K. A. Boehmer

From the Somme to the Okanagan Valley: The Surprising Journey of a Memorial Cross – “An Author’s Surprise”


Start reading

Sometimes, when we travel somewhere, we encounter something remarkably close to our interests that is a fantastic surprise discovery. Such happened to a tourist to Kelowna wishing to explore the Okanagan Military Museum years ago.   

One day, a gentleman appeared at the door on a day we were publicly closed. While informing him of our hours, I asked where he was from. He said he was passing through from Vancouver, leaving the next day for Calgary, then back home to the British Isles, and was keen to see our museum. 

I decided to let him in. Later, he asked about one of our objects on display. “I received a most interesting surprise. Standing in the Reception area was an imposing wooden cross – brown, mellowed oak, more than eight feet high – with painted inscription showing that it was a memorial to the men of the 12th (Eastern) Division who had died on the Somme in 1916. Having a strong interest in the Somme since a first visit forty years ago and a similar strong interest in the organization of the British Army in the First World War, I naturally asked how a memorial to an exclusively United Kingdom division came to be standing in a museum in the middle of British Columbia.”1 Martin Middlebrook, if you don’t know the name, wrote The First Day on the Somme (1971) and The Kaiser’s Battle (1978), along with several books about the Second World War and the Falklands War.   

Most of the 16,000+ men who volunteered for the various units of the 12th (Eastern) Division in Kitchener’s New Army were from the Counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Northamptonshire, Essex, Middlesex, The City of London, Berkshire, Surrey, Sussex, and Kent. [Fig. 1] 

[Fig. 1] Ceremonial Counties of England2

The object [Fig. 2] in question is dedicated “In memory of the Officers, Warrant Officers, N.C.Os & Men 12th Division who fell at the capture of Orvillers and in the Battle of the Somme July, August, October 1916. Grant Them O Lord Eternal Rest.”  By early 1917, when the Germans had withdrawn from the Orvillers area into their Hindenburg Line, 12th Division survivors of the Battle of the Somme sought to commemorate their “gallant and epic fight”3 on the Somme front. Royal Engineers of the 12th Division used either salvaged oak timbers or new material to erect a wooden cross on a three-tiered wooden base mounted on a stone plinth on high ground close to the ruins of the church in Orvillers. A similar cross was erected across the ‘Mash Valley’ and the Amiens-Bapaume road by the 19th (Western) Division among the ruins of La Boiselle, which they had captured in 1916.   

[Fig. 2] The Cross in the Remembrance Corner
of the Okanagan Military Museum
[Fig. 3] 12th (Eastern) Divisions memorial cross at Epéhy, France4

There it stood until it was superseded by stone York Minster-style crosses as permanent memorials to the 12th Division at Wancourt, near Arras, and at Epéhy, France, in 1921. [Fig. 3] Wancourt is on the Arras-Cambrai road south of Canada’s famous battlefield, Vimy Ridge. Here, the 12th played their part in the Battle of Arras in April 1917. Epéhy was the objective for the division in September 1918 during the Battle of Albert, which was phase II of the Second Battle of the Somme 1918. Both were victories for the division, while Orvillers was a tragedy of sacrifice and effort.

[Fig. 4] Ace of Spades Battle Honours on the cover of a Christmas Card
[Fig. 5] a 12th (Eastern) Division Ace of Spades 1918 Christmas card

Captain Francis Thomas ‘Tom’ Lee-Norman MC, a Royal Engineer officer, was the Adjutant to the 12th Division’s CRE (Commander Royal Engineer). As the administrative assistant to a senior officer, he was responsible for coordinating various units and projects, representing the CRE to higher commands and subordinate formations when needed. Before the war, Tom had worked for the Midland Great Western Railway in Ireland and then in the Chief Engineering Department for the Central Argentine Railway in Argentina. He briefly returned to this work after the war before returning to England. Tom probably participated in the 12th Division’s memorial projects and recovered the original cross in 1925.

It remained in his house [Fig. 6] called Little Court in Cherminster, Dorset, after his death in 1941, until the 1990s when the house was put up for sale.

[Fig. 6] In the Billiards Room

Relatives in Canada offered the cross to the Okanagan Military Museum Society. The cross was packed and shipped to Penticton from England in 1998, and the museum proudly displayed it on its opening day, Nov. 11, 1999. 

We know that British Columbia attracted English immigrants to the province in significant numbers before 1914. At least forty such men from East Anglia, London, and Southeast England died in service to the Canadian Expeditionary Force and are memorialized on Okanagan Cenotaphs today.5 They, too, are memorialized by the 12th (Eastern) Division cross at the Okanagan Military Museum, thanks to Captain F.T. Lee-Norman MC and family. 

To learn more about the 12th (Eastern) Division’s service at the Somme, see


1] The Kelowna Cross – How a Memorial to the 12th (Eastern) Division Dead of the Somme found its way to British Columbia; Tewkesbury, England 2007,, accessed Oct. 4, 2023 


3] History of the 12th (Eastern) Division in the Great War, 1914-1918, Maj-Gen. Sir Arthur E. Scott and P Middleton Brumwell, Nisbet and Co. Ltd. London, 1923; App. V pg. 255; OMM-B-1544 

4] Courtesy 

5] Okanagan Military Honor Roll Project data, OMM 

Researching military history?

Schedule a visit to the Vince Bezeau Military Library and Archives. CLICK HERE for more information.

About Us

This website is run and managed by the Okanagan Military Museum, part of the Kelowna Museums Society. The Okanagan Military Museum Society [OMMS] formed in 1987 and opened the Okanagan Military Museum on November 11, 1999.


Pick your next post

Major General Keller’s Weapons

Major General Keller’s Weapons

One of Kelowna’s primary links to D-Day, June 6, 1944, is through the service career of Rodney Frederick Leopold Keller (1900-1954). [See Friendly Fire from Above at for more about General Keller]  Major General R.F.L. Keller CBE [Fig....

read more
Across the Melfa River to Rome 

Across the Melfa River to Rome 

Canadian troops were at the forefront during momentous events in 1944. Two British Columbia units, the Westminster Regiment (Motor), and the 9th Canadian Armoured Regiment (British Columbia Dragoons), of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division thrust through the breach in...

read more
At Vimy, Still

At Vimy, Still

To mark Vimy Ridge Day let us remember three Okanagan soldiers that died at Vimy Ridge in France. This battle on April 9, 1917, became a cornerstone of Canadian identity after the First World War ended in 1919. That identity was paid for in blood, sweat, and scars by...

read more