The Awards of Col.Willis O'Connor, ADC to General Currie
An exceptional group steeped in Canadian history, early 20th Century Canadian establishment, and one of importance The Awards Colonel Henry Willis-O'Connor, CVO, CBE, DSO, KstJ, ADC to General Currie and ADC to Five Governor-Generals of Canada Colonel Henry Willis-O'Connor: Royal Victorian Order, Commander (numbered "C980" on the reverse); Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Commander, Military Type II; Knight of the Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem Set of Insignia: Neck Badge and Breast Star; the first three with original ribbons. Group of Ten: Distinguished Service Order, George V; 1914-15 Star (CAPT: H. WILLIS-O'CONNOR. 2/CAN:INF:); British War Medal (MAJOR H. WILLIS-O'CONNOR.); Victory Medal with MID oak leaf (MAJOR H. WILLIS-O'CONNOR.); Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal 1939-1945; King George V and Queen Mary Coronation Medal 1911 (CAPT. H. WILLIS O'CONNOR. THE G.G.F.G); King George V and Queen Mary Jubilee Medal 1935; King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Coronation Medal 1937; and Commissionaires Long Service Medal (H. WILLIS-O'CONNOR). Naming is officially impressed on the First World War trio, privately engraved on the King George V and Queen Mary Coronation Medal 1911, engraved on the reverse of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires Long Service Medal. Group of ten is court-mounted, original ribbons. Extremely fine. In a hardshelled case maker marked "SPINK & SON Ltd LONDON" on the inside lid, case fine. Accompanied by a Small Identification Tag (silver, maker marked "W.O.D." and marked "SILVER" on the reverse, engraved "CAPt H. WILLIS-O'CONNOR 2nd BATTALION, OTTAWA, CANADA R.C.", 29 mm); two CANADA Shoulder Titles (bronze, 8.5 mm x 39.8 mm each, intact lugs and pins); Wound Stripe (brass, 4.5 mm x 52 mm, stamped "THE WOUND STRIPE / PROV No. 4 PAT" on the 12.5 mm x 59.7 mm brass support plate); along with copies of his CEF Index Cards, Attestation Paper, Service Records, Medical Records, Pay Records, Proceedings of an Officer Struck off Strength of the CEF Form and Record of Service; twelve large black and white Photographs from the National Archives (taken during the First World War and during his tenure at Government House in Ottawa, including images of General Currie, General Pershing and Lord Byng); eight Photographs (two of his grave marker, one of his wife's grave marker, five of the couple's home); London General Register Office Certified Copy of an Entry of Marriage (dated June 13, 1984); assorted correspondence and hundreds of pages of research papers. Also included are his wife's, Hyacinthe Willis-O'Connor (nee Shaw) medals: Order of St. John, Serving Officer; King George V and Queen Mary Jubilee Medal 1935; King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Coronation Medal 1937; and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. Mounted to a suspension with swing bar pinback, as worn by the recipient, marked "J.R. GAUNT MONTREAL / MADE IN ENGLAND" on the suspension bar, each with ladies bow-tied original ribbons, along with an independent Service Medal of the Order of St. John (C819 H. WILLIS-O'CONNOR S.J.A.B. 1955), the naming engraved and is un-mounted. Extremely fine Footnote: The O'Connors were among the first settlers of Ottawa, one of the "pioneer families". In 1827, Colonel By encouraged Daniel O'Connor (1796-1858), a native of Waterford, Ireland and his wife, Margaret Power, to settle in Bytown (later Ottawa). He became one of the first justices of the peace and judge of the court of requests appointed by the government, was treasurer of Carleton County from 1842 to 1858, Chairman of the Grammar Board of Carleton County, and Chairman of the Board of Health. In 1834 he ran unsuccessfully against Thomas McKay in the first election of a member to represent the County of Russell in the Legislature of Upper Canada. His son, Daniel O'Connor Jr. (1835-1913) was born in Ottawa, was educated at the Ottawa Grammar school, and at the University of Ottawa. He married Miss Anna Maria O'Meara (d. 1867) and later, in 1869 married Kate Charlsetta (d. 1898). He was a well-known lawyer and was active in the Conservative Party under Sir John A. MacDonald, who became a legal agent and solicitor for the Dominion Government in Ottawa from 1878 to 1896. Henry Willis-O'Connor, the son of Daniel O'Connor Jr. and the grandson of Daniel O'Connor, was born on April 1, 1886 in Ottawa, County of Carleton, Ontario. He attended Ottawa Ladies College (at that time open to boys up to nine years of age), followed by Kent Street Public School and Ashbury College. His civilian life consisted of employment at the Sovereign Bank and later, as a partner in an Ottawa brokerage house. Henry Willis-O'Connor joined the Governor General's Foot Guards, based in Ottawa, as a Provisional Lieutenant on April 30, 1906, was appointed a Lieutenant on December 14, 1907, then promoted to Captain on March 3, 1911. He was a member of the Canadian Coronation Contingent in 1911, in the roll of Adjutant, GGFG. He would remain with the Governor General's Foot Guards until becoming part of the draft of the unit that went to Valcartier Camp in August 1914. Willis-O'Connor signed his Attestation Paper as a Captain and First Adjutant with the 2nd Infantry Battalion, on September 22, 1914 at Valcartier Camp, at the age of 28, naming his next-of-kin as his brother, Dr. Edward O'Connor on Montreal, Quebec, stating that he belonged to an Active Militia (although not stated as to which one, it was the Governor General's Foot Guards), that he had been employed with the Adjutant-General's Branch Department of the Militia and that he was not married. During his medical examination, it was noted that he had a tattoo of the Governor General's Foot Guards crest on his left wrist. The Battalion was raised in Eastern Ontario with mobilization headquarters at Camp Valcartier, Quebec under the authority of P.C.O. 2067, August 6, 1914. The Battalion sailed from Quebec City on October 3, 1914, aboard the S.S. Cassandra, with a strength of 45 officers and 1,098 other ranks under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel D.Watson. The Battalion was to serve in France and Belgium with the 1st Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. Willis-O'Connor spent the winter of 1914-1915 on Salisbury Plain, before embarking for the Western Front in France from Avonmouth (part of Bristol), on February 8, 1915. His initial service was eventful and he received two wounds in rapid succession, the first coming on May 29, 1915, where he was slightly wounded but remained at duty. Three and a half weeks later he was wounded by a shellburst on June 15, 1915, then invalided to London, before returning to his unit on the 30th. Following a period of recuperation, while with the 2nd Infantry Battalion, Willis-O'Connor was named vice Captain, while Captain E.D. O'Flynn was named Adjutant, effective September 12, 1915, the announcement appearing in the London Gazette 29343 of Friday, October 29, 1915, page 10657. Soon after, he was appointed Principal Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the 1st Canadian Brigade, Lieutenant General Sir Arthur W. Currie, on September 14, 1915, the announcement of the appointment appearing in the London Gazette 29364 of Friday, November 12, 1915, page 11204. Currie went on to be Officer Commanding the 1st Canadian Division, to Officer Commanding the Canadian Corps, with Willis-O'Connor holding the position of ADC under him until the end of the war in 1919. Willis-O'Connor was promoted to Temporary Major on April 24, 1916, followed by a promotion two months later to Major on June 19, 1916, then attached to Canadian Army Corps Headquarters on June 9, 1917. An announcement declaring his placement as part of the Personal Staff at CACHQ, effective June 9, 1917, appeared in the Supplement to the London Gazette 30621 of Tuesday, April 9, 1918, on Wednesday, April 10, 1918, page 4369. Major Henry Willis O’Connor, as a veteran of the first contingent and Aide-de-Camp to Arthur Currie, reflected a sentiment in a letter to Major Everett Bristol, another veteran of 1914-1915, who in 1918 acted as private secretary to Sir Edward Kemp in London. According to O’Connor, the service chevrons are “not really of much value now to the Canadians, as it is very hard on the men who have been out here since the beginning to wear the same chevrons as a stenographer or some other chap who has side-stepped in England for the same period of time.” In fact, some, if not all of the stenographers employed at OMFC Headquarters were civilians. In any event, O’Connor believed that Canadians who wore the red chevron were too easily mistaken for “Mons heroes” by British civilians. Here, O’Connor was referring to the “Old Contemptibles,” original soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force who first engaged the German Army in Belgium and France in August 1914, several months before the 1st Canadian Division had even reached England in October. O’Connor suggested that perhaps everyone would be satisfied if Canada instituted a unique award for the men of the first contingent, but only those who had served at the front. O’Connor had heard that the Australians were pursuing a similar initiative, so why not Canada too? In fact, the proposal had first been raised during Sir George Perley’s tenure as overseas minister by Captain I.T. Robertson, an historical officer with the Canadian War Records Office. Although Robertson was Perley’s son-in-law, the minister elected not to press the issue, as he did not wish to incur the public expense that would be involved with manufacturing the decorations at a time when the war was already costing much more than anyone would have wished. Perley’s rejection of Robertson’s proposal on the grounds of cost may seem petty, but it was also true that the Canadian government had been haggling with Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) units throughout the war over who should bear the cost of regimental cap and collar badges: the government or the units. In early 1917, the Borden government first decided that badges would be provided at public expense, but then reversed the decision, throwing the costs back on overseas battalions. Outraged Canadian officers pressed Perley to ask Ottawa for $25,000 for the purchase of enough badges to equip the entire CEF, at least for the near future. In June 1917, the Committee of the Privy Council finally permitted the OMFC to spend the money on collar, cap, and shoulder badges for all Canadian troops. Notwithstanding Perley’s earlier rejection of a special Canadian decoration for 1914 veterans, Bristol promised O’Connor to revisit the question. Bristol discovered that the Australian and New Zealand governments had decided in principle to institute a “Gallipoli Medal” for men who ventured overseas before the end of 1914, but that no such award had yet been issued. According to Bristol, there was some confusion over whether the Crown or the dominion governments in question should issue the medal, while none of the concerned parties had yet agreed on a colour scheme for the ribbon. And if the medal was to be for Gallipoli service, why should it be restricted to men who left Australia or New Zealand before the end of 1914? What about men who joined up in 1915 and also served at Gallipoli? Negotiations between the British Government and the ANZACs continued throughout 1918, only to be abandoned on the grounds that other British Empire troops who had also served at Gallipol, Newfoundlanders for example, might feel cheated if they did not receive a special award of their own. Given all of the discord surrounding the ANZAC medal, it is not surprising that the Canadian government decided not to institute a similar award, notwithstanding the costs involved. The decision not to follow through with a first contingent decoration did not disqualify further debate vis- à-vis special devices that could be added to the overseas chevrons to indicate combat service. Indeed, if there was to be no first contingent medal, then the chevron devices seemed that much more justified in the eyes of combat veterans. While recovering from wounds at a convalescent hospital in England, a Canadian officer noted in a letter that many officers and men continued to grumble about the general inclusivity of the chevrons. “If the government,” he wrote, “in consultation with the military authorities over here, were to authorize the wearing of some emblem that would indicate the character of service rendered to the country and Empire, there are tens of thousands of men who would feel very much better than they do now.” Did literally tens of thousands of men worry about the chevrons that much? Perhaps not, but there is little doubt that these small bits of worsted cloth weighed heavily on the minds of many combat veterans. Maclaren suggested that a rose bud could by worn on the sleeves of men who had served only in England, a fleur-de-lis for service in France, and an anchor for naval service. Additional devices could be designed for the relatively few Canadians who had served the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. Currie and Turner had already attempted to introduce similar such distinctions as early as December 1917, without success. The War Office could not be persuaded to introduce variations in the chevron scheme to suit every British Empire force in a global war that spanned most of the world’s oceans and continents. There were too many possibilities to consider once an exception in style or form was permitted, with Major Willis O’Connor concern over the wearing of the chevrons by seemingly everyone falling on deaf ears. Willis-O'Connor was struck off strength of the 2nd Infantry Battalion, on transfer to the Canadian Record List on March 21, 1919, then detached from Canadian Army Corps Headquarters to the Eastern Ontario Regiment Depot, on proceeding to England on April 21, 1919. Three and a half months later, he returned to Canada aboard HMT Caronia, sailing from Liverpool on August 9, 1919. Although struck off strength of the Overseas Forces of Canada, he was detailed for special duty, and continued on the Regimental List, Eastern Ontario Regiment, until he was struck off strength upon demobilization, at Military District No. 3 in Kingston, Ontario, on October 9, 1919, stating that he intended to return to the Department of Militia and Defence in Ottawa. For his First World War Service, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Major Willis-O'Connor, Eastern Ontario Regiment was twice Mentioned in Despatches: the first announcement appearing in the Second Supplement to the London Gazette 30107 of Friday, June 1, 1917, on Friday, June 1, 1917, page 5424 and the second announcement appearing in the Fifth Supplement to the London Gazette 31089 of Friday, December 27, 1918, on Tuesday, December 31, 1918, page 15218, as per Sir Douglas Haig's despatch of November 8, 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, one of only 744 Canadians to receive the order, the announcement appearing in the Supplement to the London Gazette 31092 of Tuesday, December 31, 1918, on Wednesday, January 1, 1919, page 21. He was appointed to the Permanent Force and transferred to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry on November 25, 1919, where he was ADC (Adjutant) to Lieutenant-General J.H. MacBrien from 1919 to 1921. During the war, Willis-O'Connor met General Byng, then Canadian Corps Commander at Vimy and formed a quick friendship with him. In the Spring of 1920, Major Henry Willis-O'Connor DSO, who had been General Sir Arthur Currie's ADC throughout the war, was a guest at Thorpe Hall. One morning, The Times (London) reported that Lord Byng had been appointed Governor General of Canada. Byng knew nothing about it and thought there must be some mistake. Jokingly, he suggested to Willis-O'Connor that, if anything came of it, he should become Byng's ADC. In the same spirit, Willis-O'Connor accepted eventually ended up serving as Aide-de-Camp to Sir Julian Lord Byng, his former Canadian Corps Commander and Canadian Governor General, beginning on August 18, 1921. He returned to London, to take up the ADC post and married there, taking Hyacinth Shaw as his wife, on July 16, 1921 at the Roman Catholic Cathedral, Ashley Place, District of St. George, Hanover Square, County of London. He was age 35, she was age 28 and the couple were to have two children together, Frances Melodie Willis-O'Connor and Hugh Raymond Willis-O'Connor. Upon his return to Canada in 1921, he assumed his position as Aide-de-Camp at Government House in Ottawa under Governor General Lord Byng, a position he was to hold until 1945. He served as Principal ADC and Comptroller at Government House in Ottawa, to five successive Governor Generals: Baron Lord Byng of Vimy (1921-1926), Viscount Willingdon (1926-1931), Earl of Bessborough (1931-1935), Baron Tweedsmuir (1935-1939) and Earl of Athlone (1940-1946). During his time under Viscount Willingdon, Willis-O'Connor was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on May 21, 1930, then given Brevet Colonel on November 7, 1933 and awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Commander, as announced in the London Gazette on June 3, 1935, while under the Earl of Bessborough. He was promoted to Temporary Colonel on February 5, 1936, then promoted Substantive Lieutenant-Colonel on February 16, 1937. Willis-O'Connor became a close friend of King George VI, when the King and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada in 1939. During the Second World War, as Principal ADC under Tweedsmuir and Athlone, he organized the August 1943 Quebec Conference between Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom and President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, which was also attended by top-ranking Allied officers. The following September 1944, he was entrusted with organizing a second Quebec Conference between the same two leaders. He was a confidant of two former Prime Ministers of Canada: Richard Bedford Bennett, 1st Viscount Bennett, PC KC FRSA and William Lyon Mackenzie King, PC, OM, CMG. Colonel Henry Willis-O'Connor CVO, CBE, DSO was also the author of a book, "Inside Government House", written in collaboration with Madge Macbeth and published by The Ryerson Press in Toronto in 1954. Colonel Willis-O'Connor was awarded the Royal Victorian Order, Commander, as announced in the London Gazette on January 1, 1946, the ceremony taking place on June 27, 1946. Only forty-four had been issued to Canadians. Colonel Willis-O'Connor CVO, CBE, DSO retired from the army on July 1, 1946, his military career having spanned forty years. For his service during the Second World War, he was awarded the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and the War Medal 1939-1 45. He was an active member of the Rideau Club and was its General Manager (1946-1947), a member of the Marlborough Club of London, England, the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, the Country Club, the Seigniory Club and the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (where he maintained his yacht "Hippo"). His personal interests included painting, golfing and gardening, which extended to a keen interest in the work performed by the St. John Ambulance, with Willis-O'Connor becoming a member of its Priory Council. He was made a Commander of the Order of St. John in 1947 and promoted to Knight of the Order in 1954. The interest in the St. John Ambulance was shared by his wife, as she was awarded the Order of St. John, Serving Officer and the Service Medal of the Order of St. John in 1955. Henry Willis-O'Connor was also a Governor and Director of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, earning him the Commissionaires Long Service Medal. He had a remarkable memory for names and faces, which made him a great asset at Rideau Hall, where he rubbed shoulders with many of the great men of the world, especially of the British Commonwealth. A close friend, Kenneth A. Greene, one-time Canadian High Commissioner to Australia said that Willis-O'Connor "walked with kings, but never lost the common touch". He was a close witness to many important Canadian military and political events during the first half of the Twentieth Century. He also had the reputation of being an ally of any veteran in need, whether the need was employment or ready cash, along with being an active member of the Second Battalion Association and often attended the Red Chevron dinners. Willis-O'Connor was stricken with a heart attack and died in hospital a few days later, on April 25, 1957, at the age of 71. A military funeral was held at St. Bartholomew's Anglican Church, of which the Colonel was a member and he was buried in Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa. His grave marked reads: "COLONEL H. WILLIS O'CONNOR / CVO, CBE, DSO, KstJ. / APRIL 1st 1886 - APRIL 25th 1957 / "LOVE IS EVERYTHING DEATH IS NAUGHT" " His daughter, Frances Melodie Willis-O'Connor later married, becoming Mrs. Hart Parkin Massey, and subsequently the daughter-in-law of future Governor-General Vincent Massey. His son, Hugh Raymond "Hippo" Willis-O'Connor was a Drill Sergeant with three years of Cadet training at Upper Canada College, who later joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he became a Flying Officer and completed a tour of "Ops" that included a bomber group sortie against Bochum, Germany and saw plenty of action as a mid-upper gunner in a Bison Halifax Squadron, as noted in the Ottawa Citizen of February 9, 1945. Hugh Raymond Willis-O'Connor later married Margaret Marise "Jackie" Bishop (1926-2013), who was the daughter of Air Vice Marshal William Avery "Billy" Bishop, VC, DSO, MC of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the great-granddaughter of department store magnate Timothy Eaton. She was a Corporal in the RCAF and returned home in February 1945, after serving overseas with the RCAF Women's Division for eighteen months. At the time of his death in 1957, Colonel Henry Willis-O'Connor had four grandchildren. His oil on canvas portrait c. 1917-1918 by the British artist Sir William Orpen (1878-1931) is displayed as part of the Orpen Portraits in the Canadian War Memorials Collection of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.