After 13 informative and incredible days, our BVP2017 students said their goodbyes and departed for home early this morning. Paul was seen off at the metro for his return to Boulogne and Lala was accompanied to the Gare-du-Nord for her homebound train to Sutton. The Canadian participants and chaperones bid their bus driver Franky farewell at Charles De Gaulle airport and boarded their plane to Toronto. The Vimy Foundation would like to thank our chaperone team and everyone who helped to make the 2017 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize program and incredible experience for our 16 newly minted Beaverbrook Vimy Prize alumni. For the last blog entry of BVP2017, we asked our new alumni to describe the program in one word. Here is what they said:
(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)
–Lala Israfilova, Carshalton, Sutton, United Kingdom
-Paul Toquebouef, Boulogne, France
-Claire Belliveau, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
-Katy Whitfield, Toronto, Ontario
-Evan Kanter, Toronto, Ontario
-Abbey Garrett, Conception Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador
Filip Konowalemmigrated to Canada from Siberia in 1913. Born in present-day Ukraine, Konowal had served as a hand-to-hand and bayonetcombat instructor in the Imperial Russian Army before working as a feller for a logging company in Siberia. In 1916, he enlisted with the 77th (Ottawa) Battalion but once overseas was transferred to the 47th (British Columbia) Battalion.
During the fighting at Hill 70 and Lens, Konowal served on a mopping-up party, moving forward behind the first wave, cleaning out trouble spots of enemy resistance. On numerous occasions Konowal dropped down alone into dark basements and cellars that had been converted into machine-gun posts, taking on entire enemy crews with club and bayonet, each time emerging unscathed. At one point he charged a crew of seven moving out in the open, dispatching them all (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 60). In one of his last actions, he entered a tunnel near Fosse 4, tossing two charges of ammonal in on a garrison, before charging in with the bayonet and eliminating the entire post (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 60). Sergeant Konowal was soon after severely wounded by a gunshot wound to the neck and face. He was evacuated, recovered, and even went on to serve with the Canadian Siberian ExpeditionaryForce late in the war.
However, like fellow Victoria Cross recipient Private Michael O’Rourke, VC, MM,Sergeant Filip Konowal’s life after the war was marred by tragedy. The day after leading the Peace Parade of Veterans through downtown Ottawa on 19 July 1919, Konowal would be charged with the stabbing murder ofWilliam (Vasyl) Artich in Hull, Quebec.Konowal’s friend, LeontiDiedek, had been attacked by Artich and Konowal came to Diedek’s rescue. In a resulting struggle, during which Artich struckKonowal on the head and then slashed and stabbed his arm, Konowal gained control of the knife, stabbing Artich just once, directly in the heart. When the police arrived, Konowal stood calmly at the scene and stated as a matter-of-fact: “I’ve killed 52 of them [in the war], that makes it the 53rd.” (Sorobey“Filip Konowal, VC: The Rebirth of a Canadian Hero,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 5: Iss. 2, Article 6).
Put on trial, Konowal was provided unwavering support by the Great War Veterans Association (a pre-cursor to the Royal Canadian Legion), and money was raised for his defense. It was determined that the wounds and trauma suffered by Konowal during the war had led to brain damage that resulted in hallucinations and dramatic mood swings. (At times he believed he was at Hill 70, and strangers were the enemy, attacking his men). Found not criminally responsible for the murder, Konowal was admitted into Montreal’s Saint Jean de Dieu Hospital (now theInstitutuniversitaireen santé mentale de Montréal) on 27 April 1921.
Approximately seven years later, after progressive treatment and an astounding recovery, Konowal was released. Gaining employment just as the world slipped into the Great Depression was most difficult, but through a chance encounter Konowal received a positionon the cleaning staff at the Parliament Buildings. In yet another chance encounter, then-Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King spotted the medal ribbons pinned to Konowal’s caretakers tunic, including the crimson ribbon of the Victoria Cross. From that day forward, Konowal was employed as the personal caretaker and messenger of Room No. 16, the Prime Minister’s own office on Parliament Hill.
In later years, veterans groups and Royal Canadian Legion branches would be named after Filip Konowal and a host of plaques erected across the country. They would also fundraise to help send him to England to meet the Royal family on the centennialof the Victoria Cross’ inception. More recently, Konowal’s hometown of Kutkivtsi (Kudkiv), Ukraine unveiled a large stone and bronze memorial in his name, the city of Lens, France unveiled a plaque and bas relief, and lastly, the new Hill 70 Memorial, unveiled in April 2017, includes a pathway named the “Konowal Walk”. It also appears that, having believed them to have died in Stalin’s purges, Konowal’s wife and daughter in fact survived, and grandchildren remain in Kutkivtsi (Kudkiv), Ukraine.
Filip Konowal died on 3 June 1959 and is buried in Notre Dame de Lourdes Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario.
For a morecomplete story of the life of Sergeant Filip Konowal, VC, read Sorobey, Ron (1996) “Filip Konowal, VC: The Rebirth of a Canadian Hero,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 5 : Iss. 2 , Article 6. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol5/iss2/6
Editor’s Note – There is some discrepancy over the dates upon which Konowal’s actions for the Victoria Cross took place. Numerous sources state it was over a two-day period, from 22 – 24 August 1917. However his Service File records Konowal as having been seriously wounded on 21 August 1917 and admitted to hospital. It is clear that Konowal was gravely wounded at some point during the battle, however if his actions took place during the attack on Lens, then 22 – 24 August 1917 is a more likely time period. The attack on Lens did not begin until the early morning of 21 August 1917. Nonetheless, in the fog of trench warfare, it is possible that Konowal was engaged in fighting around Hill 70, the day prior to the Lens attack officially startingand this may have been taken into consideration as the “two-day period”.
Robert Hanna emmigrated to Canada from Kilkeel, Ireland in 1905. When war broke out he enlisted with the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion on 7 November 1914. By 21August 1917, he had risen to the position of Company Sergeant-Major (CSM), when during an attempt to gain a number of trenches atop Hill 70, all the officers of “B” Company became casualties. Leadership of the beleaguered force thus fell to CSM Hanna. In a precarious position, neighbouring “C” Company, and now Hanna’s “B” Company, was taking mounting casualties from an enemy defensive live that centered on a machine-gun post. Already having seen the previous three attacks fail, CSM Hanna nonetheless calmly gathered up a small band of men, leading them on a dash through heavy barbed wire entanglements and enemy fire. Reaching the machine-gun post, Hanna carried the charge through to its end, engaging three of the crew with his bayonet and the fourth with his rifle butt (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 49). In a momentary lapse, Hanna and his few surviving men created a blocking position in the trench system, before the Germans launched a series of counter-attacks. Each renewed attack was turned back by the small band of Canadians led by CSM Hanna, and theyheld out until relief arrived later that day (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 49).
For his immediate actions, leadership and fighting efficiency that day, Company Sergeant-Major Robert Hanna received the Victoria Cross. He would survive the war, returning to British Columbia, Canada. He passed away 15 June 1967 and is buried in the Masonic Cemetery, Burnaby, British Columbia. His grave has since received a traditional Commonwealth War Graves Commission tombstone.
Today in Paris, the BVP2017 students toured the Musée the l’Armée at l’Hotel des Invalides and got to see Napoleon’s tomb and spectacular works by art masters on the theme of war. Next, they travelled to Versailles and spent the rest of the day exploring the magnificent palace and gardens and visited the very spot where the Paris Peace Conference was held and the Treaty of Versailles was signed.
(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)
I sit here on the sidewalk of a busy street, watching the passage of strangers before me. Each one of them have a story, a life worth living. But they are not all strangers, because sitting beside me are the friends and people who are sharing the same experience, the same life-changing opportunity as me. And yet, though we have traveled together, have seen the same memorials and have shared in mourning, we have all been differently impacted by this experience. I myself will never be able to see life in quite the same lens again. My colours of perception have shifted and my horizon has broadened.
I realize now how little I have thought of these soldiers, those men who sacrificed freedom and safe homes so that our future might be a better place. But I fear I am not the only one; sometimes it seems like the whole world is forgetting the importance of remembrance, the importance of standing before a tombstone and paying our respects to those who sleep beneath our feet. For the First World War, our modern world has lost that crucial personal connection that ties lost soldiers to modern families. Today, we look at a grave, we attend a ceremony and, perhaps, we experience a habit; is it something we do because the generations before us did the same? Do we see the stories, the faces buried beneath?
We must see them, we must look at the past through the eyes of those men, so that we may not forget and repeat the mistakes of the past.
–Ariadne Douglas, Prince George, British Columbia
Today we went to Paris’ Hôtel national des Invalides & Musée de l’Armée. It was fascinating to see the tomb of Napoleon and the ways it differed from the other memorials that we had seen throughout the trip. We also had the opportunity to see exhibitions on the First and Second World Wars. These were an opportunity to view both wars from the French perspective, after our many visits to Commonwealth Memorials and Cemeteries. The exhibitions were presented in chronological order, allowing us to follow the progression of one war into the next. Being from a town in the UK that suffered from a number of attacks during the Blitz, it was interesting for me to be able to see am entire section on the Blitz during the Second World War.
-Lala Israfilova, Carshalton, Sutton, United Kingdom
Today, for the final activities of the 2017 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize program, the participants are visiting the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris as well as the Palace of Versailles. On 28 June 1919, on the fifth anniversary of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination,the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the Palace of Versailles. This officially ended the hostilities of the First World War.
Today is the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. In honour of this momentous occasion the #BVP2017 students attended official commemoration ceremonies and had the privilege of forming part of the honour guard. Earlier in the day they visited the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, where over 700 of the 916 Canadians who died on August 19, 1942 are buried.
(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)
Il y a un mot en particulier qui me vient en tête pour décrire cette journée : honneur. En effet, après notre réveil assez tôt, nous sommes repartis dans l’autocar avec les anciens combattants et personnes affiliées que nous avions rencontrés la veille. Suite à des brèves discussions, nous avons assisté à la première partie de la cérémonie du 75e de Dieppe. La Fondation Vimy était représentée par trois de nos participants qui ont récité « La promesse de ne pas oublier ».
Dans le même cimetière, j’observais à nouveau les pierres tombales. L’épitaphe qui m’a impressionné était sur la pierre de J. C. Palms, un soldat américain enrôlé dans les forces canadiennes au sein du Essex Scottish Regiment, et lisait : « Il s’est réveillé du rêve qu’est la vie. »
Par la suite, nous avons été invités à joindre la seconde partie de la cérémonie, près de la plage. Une fois arrivés, nous avons rencontré et chaleureusement salué le ministre des Anciens combattants. Deux autres participants ont à nouveau représenté notre fondation et déposé une couronne. Portant l’uniforme rouge, au milieu du bruit des saxophones, des tubas et des cymbales jouant avec ardeur les hymnes nationaux, je sentais les regards se tourner vers moi. Quel honneur !
-Yaman Awad, Anjou, Quebec
August 19th, 1942 will always be remembered as the day of the Allied landings at Dieppe. Yesterday, we walked along the same pebble-stoned beaches of those brave men; those who landed, fought, and died, 75 years ago. Today, we saw the graves in which they lie. The cemetery was packed with people from local communities and travellers from abroad who came especially for the commemorative ceremony. Two of us stood at the front of the crowd, alongside a 93 year-old veteran Alfred Lonsdale who saw the beaches of Dieppe from a warship in 1942 and then those at Normandy two years later on D-Day in June 1944. Alfred saluted sharply after I laid a wreath at the foot of the Cross of Sacrifice, indeed, at the feet of the ghosts of Dieppe. That’s who Alfred was saluting.
The night before, we participated in another ceremony. We walked between the rows of gravestones, lit by candlelight, reading the names. What jumped out at me, after visiting so many World War cemeteries, were all the different branches of the army represented. So many airmen, so many signalmen, among all the infantrymen. At the end we had time to plant remembrance crosses and commemorate a soldier of our choosing. I sought out an unknown Royal Air Force airman. My grandfather served in the RAF in the 1960’s, and I planted that cross for him. We will remember them.
-David Alexander, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
Today we attended the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. The ceremony was very moving and I felt privileged to be able to participate in this important event. The presentations and acts of remembrance were touching but what had the most profound impact on me were two small boys in the crowd who could not have been more than seven years old. Seeing these two made me realize that remembering the soldiers who died in the World Wars is not enough; we also have to work to keep peace throughout the world so that the horrific conflicts of the past are never repeated.
When I saw these two boys, I thought to myself, “I hope they never have to fight like all the men buried around me had to fight.” All the graveyards I had seen on the program thus far were not only sites of remembrance, but they were also a warning of the cost of war. Throughout the past week and a half, I have seen the impact the two World Wars had on the communities and the people when they were occurring and the impact they still have to this day. Suddenly, everything I had seen became a lesson screaming that we have to preserve peace.
In the First World War, the soldiers fought what they believed was the War to End All Wars – they fought and died for peace. In the Second World War, soldiers fought against the Axis – they fought and died for the freedom of occupied and oppressed peoples. It is not enough for us to remember their sacrifice. We have to work so that their deaths have a lasting impact. We have to work towards peace!
Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. On 19August 1942, 4,963 Canadians led the 6,100-strong raiding force as it landed on 8 separate points of the Atlantic coast. While local successes were achieved by British commandos attacking artillery batteries at neighbouring Varengeville and Berneval, the Canadians struggled to enter the town from the main landing beaches. Only half of the supporting armour from the Calgary Regiment (Tank) made it past the seawall, the rest bogging down or breaking tank treads on the shingle beach. A vicious infantry battle took place within the beachfront casino and surrounding streets, while the remaining tanks, blocked by anti-tank obstacles, provided fire support. By 09:30, just six hours after the first landings, a general withdrawal began. Tanks that hadpassed the seawall covered the retreat to the beaches. As the tanks pulled back, they too became stuck on the shingle beach. Fighting valiantly, their crews remained in their tanks, serving as immobile gun support. By 14:00, the withdrawal was complete.
The Canadians suffered 916 fatalities across the three branches of service. Only 2,210 of the 4,963 Canadians, many of whom were wounded, returned to England. Total casualties numbered 3,367, including 1,946 as prisoners of war (POW).
Two Canadians received the Victoria Cross for their actions that day, as well as a British Commando.
Reverend John W. Foote, VC, of Madoc, Ontario, became the first member of the Canadian Chaplain Services to earn the Victoria Cross. As Chaplain of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Foote walked up and down the beach, administering aid to the wounded and dying. During the withdrawal, Foote made countless trips bringing thewounded to the evacuation craft arriving at the beach. Finally, at the end, Foote stepped off the last craft out, and rejoined those left stranded on the beach, in order to provide comfort and ministry to the thousands of Canadian POWs.
Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt, VC, of Vancouver, British Columbia, led the South Saskatchewan Regiment ashore at Pourville. As the regiment suffered mounting casualties attempting to cross a bridge, Merritt stepped forward and calmly walked numerous parties across through murderous fire. When the order for withdrawal was given, Merritt, though twice wounded, mounted a rear-guard action that enabled many others to escape off the beach. He too became a prisoner of war.
Today in Dieppe, the BVP2017 students had the honour and privilege of meeting and spending time with veterans of the Second World War. In the evening, they participated in an emotional candlelight vigil on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. The vigil was organized by the Association of War Veterans and Memory and was held at the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery.
(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)
Today we visited Pointe-du-Hoc, a German controlled cliff side taken by American soldiers during the Normandy invasions of the Second World War. I read a plaque as I approached the cliffs that explained how American troops used rope ladders to climb the vast distance from the beach shore to the top of the cliffs. This seems like it would have been an insurmountable feat, as the climbers were simultaneously being shot at by machine guns with a two kilometre range. I stared from a German observation post to the bottom of the cliffs in awe of how the attacking forces were able to overcome this obstacle. The area was fortified by the German army with concrete casemates and gun pits. I had the chance to walk through these structures, and the large concrete and steel walls enveloping me led me to believe that I would have felt relatively safe when the Allies invaded, and I realized how difficult it must have been to overwhelm the Germans within these secure structures. Exploring Pointe-du-Hoc was an invaluable experience for me as I was able to fully comprehend the magnitude of the area’s cliffs and the power and sturdiness of the German defenses mightily taken by attacking allied forces.
–Eric Jose, Oshawa, Ontario
Come dusk, the cemetery was cast with orange light. We stood as a little red-jacketed Canadian congregation, clutching maple leaf flags and crosses of remembrance. At the commemorative vigil for the 75th anniversary of Dieppe, I took in everything: the kilted men with bagpipes, the soldiers, the cadets, the veterans, the story of Robert, an 18-year-old Canadian soldier, who died minutes after he hit the cold waves on the beach – the very beach on which we had trekked just hours before, all holding hands, alive.In a letter home Robert wrote, “Maman, I promise I shall make up for all the pains I’ve caused you.”
So many of us were red-eyed, I myself was unaware I was tearing up as well. Every one of us in our red-jacketed congregation care deeply for peace, freedom, camaraderie, honour, joy. We are not numb to the overwhelming grief of hundreds of thousands dead. We will not roll our eyes and sigh, “you know, war is all for nothing”. We will not numb the courage and valour with which it is possible to live and to protect.
The final procession wound through the cemetery. Upon the gravestones, our shadows flickered like ghosts. Lost boys. I swear they were there.
On 15 August 1917, at 41 years of age, Sergeant Frederick Hobson, of Galt/Cambridge, Ontario, attacked Hill 70 alongside men of “A” company of the 20th Battalion (Central Ontario). Clearing a section of enemy trench known as Nabob Alley, Sgt. Hobson and his men established a blocking position for the inevitable counter-attacks. For the next three days the outpost held out, until a heavy bombardment in the early morning of 18August wiped out the 20th Battalion headquarters and all but one of the Lewis guns in the forward positions. As the lone Lewis gun began to fire, a German shell struck, burying the gun and sole surviving crew member in mud and debris. Sensing the situation, Hobson dashed forward, digging the buried man out.
“Guess that was a close call,” said the survivor, Private A.G. Fuller. “Guess so : let’s get the gun out,” replied Hobson. (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 52) As they began to dig, the enemy fired at them and advanced across the open wasteland.
‘A bullet hit Hobson, but he took no notice of his wound. Together he and Fuller got the gun into position and opened up on the Germans, who were now pouring down the trench. They were holding the enemy well when the gun jammed. Hobson picked up his rifle.
“I’ll keep them back,” he said to Fuller, “if you fix the gun!” ‘ (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 52)
Already wounded, Sgt. Hobson chargedthe group entering the trench, holding them off with rifle, club and bayonet. In the midst of the melee, a single rifle shot hitSgt. Hobson, killing him just as Private Fuller brought the Lewis gun back into action, ending the enemy threat. Reinforcements arrived only a few minutes later. For his actions that day, Sergeant Frederick Hobson was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His body was lost in the subsequent fighting, and he is thus commemorated on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
MajorOkill Massey Learmonth, VC, MC
Having already earned the Military Cross for prior actions in 1917, Major Okill Massey Learmonth, of Quebec City, went into the attack on Hill 70 with the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment). Having held their line for three days, by the 18th of August, the 2nd Battalion had only 614 men left when enemy let loose a terrific bombardment in the early morning hours. Attacking with flamethrowers, the enemy was able to enter the 2nd Battalion trenches before a bombing party drove them out.
The attacks continued throughout the morning, with Learmonth personally charging an enemy force threatening his entire company, catching and hurling back enemy grenades and shouting encouragementfrom the parapet. Wounded twice, “he carried on as if he were perfectly fit and whole” (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 57). A third wound broke Learmonth’s leg, but failed to break his spirit. “Lying in the trench, he continued to direct his men, encouraging them, cheering them, advising them” (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 57). As the enemy attacks died off, Learmonth was finally loaded onto a stretcher and carried out, passing valuable details to his junior officers along the way. He would die of his wounds the same day in hospital.
Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC, MC was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and later buried in Nouex-les-Mines Communal Cemetery. He was 23 years old.
Today in France the BVP2017 students visited the JunoBeachCentre, shared a special moment during their own private ceremony on the Beach, and visited the iconic Canada House. They also saw the Mulberry Harbours at Arromanches and visited the war cemeteries at Beny-sur-Mer and Bayeux. The best part of the day was when the group met veterans of the Second World War, Harry and Len!
(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)
Bonjour à tous, aujourd’hui, nous sommes allés à deux endroits où les forces Alliés ont débarqué le 6 Juin 1944, les plages de Juno et Gold. Nous sommes tout premièrement allés sur la plage de Juno, sur laquelle les Canadiens ont débarqué pour libérer la France et l’Europe. Nous avons tout d’abord participé à une cérémonie émouvante sur la plage. Ensuite, nous avons visité le Centre de Juno Beach qui était très intéressant, notamment une exposition sur la commémoration de Vimy à Juno. C’était très intéressant de voir le débarquement du point de vue Canadien et d’en apprendre plus sur le long et rigoureux entrainement pour faire partie des forces Alliées. Ensuite, nous sommes allés au cimetière Canadien de Bény sur Mer, qui était magnifique. Là-bas, j’ai été très impressionné par deux épitaphes de Canadiens mort le Jour J et dans les jours suivant : « I have fulfilled my duty » et « All you had you gave to save mankind. Yourself you scorned to save your life ».
– Paul Toqueboeuf, Boulogne, France
As we visit numerous cemeteries throughout the program, we remember the lost, the forgotten and the fallen soldiers who made so many sacrifices during times of war; giving up the safety of their countries and their homes, their families, and ultimately, their lives. To commemorate those brave souls, there are memorials and tombstones erected in their honour. They have been designed with care; every cut in the stone, every engraving carefully planned out and overflowing with meaning. The tombstones found in Commonwealth cemeteries resemble each other at first sight, as they usually bear the name of the soldier, their battalion, regimental number and date of death. However, each one tells a different story. The epitaphs found near the bottom of the tombstones are usually a good way to begin these stories. While visiting different cemeteries, I have collected some of those epitaphs:
“To the world he was just a soldier. To me, he was all the world.”
“Loved. Remembered. Longed for always. Until the day break and the shadows flee away.”
“To live in the hearts of those who love us is never to die at all.”
“There is a link that death will never sever – Love and remembrance last forever.”
I have written the following epitaph as a promise to the Fallen:
“I will keep alight the torch of courage your dying hands passed onto me. Not just today, but every day. In silence we remember.”
-Cecilia Kim, Surrey, British Columbia
Today we went to Juno Beach, the site of the Canadian landings as part of the Normandy invasion on June 6th, 1944. We held a moving ceremony on the beach to commemorate the more than 24,000 Canadian men who fought and the 340 Canadian men who died during D-Day. We recited the poetic words of Cyril Crain:
They gave their lives in Normandy Remember them with pride. Soldiers, airmen, sailors, airborne and marines Who in civvy life were tailors and men who worked machines.
We finished the ceremony by writing memorial messages to the dead, in the sand on the beach.
Inside the center were short films about the Juno Beach assault, artifacts from the war, and a special exhibit called “From Vimy to Juno: Remembering Canadians in France.” I was excited to see the work of our chaperone Rachel in this exhibit, which discussed how Canadians fought in France since the Great War, and how Canadian involvement has been commemorated. It was an emotional and gratifying experience to see where “our boys” began the liberation of Europe, seventy-three years ago.