The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada will be given a very special gift this Christmas.
Grace Madill of Sidney, B.C. will be handing over her father’s Distinguished Conduct Medal (two bars) during the regiment’s annual Ortona dinner Saturday night, Dec. 13.
The honour was given to Company Sgt. Maj. Hilton Soles for his outstanding bravery during the First World War. Soles enlisted with the Seaforth Highlanders in Victoria in 1915 and won the accolade three times — the only Canadian ever to do so. The medal was the second highest award for valour, just below the Victoria Cross.
After Soles died of a heart attack in 1945, Madill inherited his medals at the age of 12.
So why bestow something so precious after holding onto it for nearly 70 years?
“They meant a lot to me. You see, my mother didn’t like bagpipes, so she wouldn’t go to the armouries,” Madill told the Courier in a phone interview from her Sidney home. “I loved bagpipes, so Dad took me along with him for the last three years he was alive.
“He often had to sit up on the stage when we were at the armouries. His old buddies would look after me, telling me all these stories about him. I was totally fascinated by it all. So this made sense.”
After ending up in the hospital this past summer, Madill, who’s now 81 years old, asked her daughter Carol for a helping hand.
“One day I was talking to Carol and I said, ‘Look, I want this done. I’m in my 80s so I don’t want to wait much longer.’”
Carol then contacted a friend who referred her to the Seaforth office on Burrard Street.
“Finding all this out is relatively new to me, too,” Carol admitted. “I was overwhelmed. I literally typed his name into Google and pulled up all the information about the Distinguished Conduct Medal. When I found out there were only 2,132 DCM’s awarded in Canada, and when I saw there’s only one of them with two bars out there, and I had it, it was an amazing feeling.”
Each Christmas, the Seaforth Highlanders get together to mark the Second World War battle of Ortona. Canadian troops forced a German withdrawal from the Italian town on Dec. 28, 1943, but at a cost of more than 1,000 Canadian lives in the fight for the town and surrounding area.
On Christmas Eve just days before, Seaforth quartermaster Capt. D.B. Cameron and his men arranged an elaborate dinner in a nearby church. Each soldier indulged in soup, pork and Christmas pudding. They also left with a bottle of beer, fruits, nuts, candies and cigarettes.
In order to prevent the enemy from advancing, everyone ate in rotations; thus began an annual tradition.
Tomorrow’s event, which will be held at the Seaforth’s temporary home in Jericho Garrison, will repeat history, with a similar menu offered to guests.
Carol said she’s absolutely thrilled her mom’s being granted her wish to have the medal come full circle.
For Madill, the journey is almost complete.
“Before I depart this Earth, I’m going to make sure that I get to the armouries to see what they did with Dad’s stuff.”