For our upcoming Wednesday posts, we will begin sharing epitaphs from Canadian First World War headstones. Many of them come from the new book “Canada’s Dream Shall Be of Them”
“Spirit in heaven, body in France, memory in Canada.”
Private Earl Orington MacKinnon, 10th (Canadians) Battalion, 9 April 1917 – St. Catherine British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
Credit: McGeer, Canada’s Dream Shall Be of Them, p. 26.
“Not now but in the coming years, sometime, someday, we’ll understand”
Following the re-burial of four fallen Canadians this week by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, we thought it fitting to reflect on a recently published book titled “Canada’s Dream Shall be of Them”. A touching and important work from author Eric McGeer, with photographs from Steve Douglas, it is an anthology of epitaphs drawn from the tombstones of Canadian soldiers buried inFrance.
The epitaph of Private Edron Anderson of Calgary, included in Canada’s Dream, reads “Not now but in the coming years, sometime, someday, we’ll understand”. While we may be incapable of understanding the grief Edron’s parents faced when composing his epitaph, Canada’s Dream connects the twenty-first century reader with the Canadian soldiers lost during the First World War and the families that were left behind.
Private Edron Anderson was born 16 May 1893 and emmigrated from Liverpool, England to Calgary, Alberta. A farmer by trade, Anderson was called up for the draft under the Military Service Act in November 1917 and joined the 10th (Canadians) Battalion in the field on 31 August 1918. He was killed less than a month later during the Hundred Days Offensive on 28 September 1918. Private Edron Anderson is buried in Naves Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France. He was 26 years old.
This moving book can be purchased here https://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Books/C/Canada-s-Dream-Shall-Be-of-Them
25 August – On this day in 1917, the Battle of Hill 70 comes to a close. By the end of 24 August, the survivors of the 44th (Manitoba) Battalion were forced to retire from the Green Crassier, having been attacked on all sides and suffering 257 casualties (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 296). In a final move, the 50th (Calgary) Battalion attacked and secured Aloof Trench on 25 August. By nightfall of 25 August, the relief of Canadian units at Hill 70 and Lens was complete, signalling the end of the Canadian Corps’ Battle of Hill 70.
While the attack on Hill 70 was a resounding success, the town of Lens would remain in enemy hands until their retreat in 1918. For their successes, the Canadians were awarded numerous accolades, including six Victoria Crosses, and the HILL 70 Battle Honour. From 15 – 25 August 1917, the Canadians suffered 9,198 casualties killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
Our BVP2017 group has officially returned home as of late last night. In the hustle and bustle of the program, we had to skip a few regular social media posts that have been favourites of our followers, especially #MascotMondays.
In the early hours of 19 August 1942, from the beaches of Dieppe, Canadian forces released the carrier pigeon “Beachcomber“, who was entrusted with the delivery of an important message to England. Taking flight with blazing speed through hazardous conditions, including one of the largest aerial dogfights of the war, Beachcomber safely reached England, informing higher command that the Canadians had landed at Dieppe. In March 1944, the English People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals awarded Beachcomber the Dickin Medal, (awarded to animals who displayed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in military service).
Beachcomber remains the only Canadian pigeon, and one of only three Canadian service animals, to be awarded the Dickin Medal.
The official citation reads:
Pigeon – NPS.41.NS.4230
Date of Award: 6 March 1944
“For bringing the first news to this country of the landing at Dieppe, under hazardous conditions in September, 1942, while serving with the Canadian Army.”
For more information on the Dickin Medal and the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, visit https://www.pdsa.org.uk/
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
-Cecilia Kim, Surrey, British Columbia
-Maddy Burgess, Bow Island, Alberta
-Ariadne Douglas, Prince George, British Columbia
-Enshia Li, Richmond Hill, Ontario
-Hanna Smyth, Richmond, British Columbia
-David Alexander, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
-Alisia Pan, North York, Ontario
-Patricia Kennedy, Fredericton, New Brunswick
-Rachel Collishaw, Ottawa, Ontario
-Yaman Awad, Anjou, Quebec
-Thomas Littlewood, Ottawa, Ontario
-Eric Jose, Oshawa, Ontario
-Cole Oien, Calgary, Alberta
-Daniel Schindel, Surrey, British Columbia
22-24 August 1917
Filip Konowal emmigrated to Canada from Siberia in 1913. Born in present-day Ukraine, Konowal had served as a hand-to-hand and bayonet combat 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). Corporal 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 Expeditionary Force late in the war.
However, like fellow Victoria Cross recipient Private Michael O’Rourke, VC, MM, Corporal 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 of William (Vasyl) Artich in Hull, Quebec. Konowal’s friend, Leonti Diede
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 the Institut universitair
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 position on 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 centennial of 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 more complete story of the life of Corporal 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/
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 starting and this may have been taken into consideration as the “two-day period”.
21 August 1917
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 21 August 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 they held 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.
21-25 August 1917
With the success of the Canadian Corps at Hill 70, Currie now turned his eyes to the town behind the hill – Lens. Despite drawing out the Germans into a costly attack, and causing some 20 000 casualties, the capture of Hill 70 had not forced a German withdrawal from the city. Currie had originally planned Hill 70 to avoid having to make the Corps attack a fortified city, which they had no previous experience doing, but with no German withdrawal and increasing pressure from his high command Currie was forced to consider going into Lens.
With input from his divisional commanders, Currie ordered the 2nd and 4th Divisions into the city in a narrow fronted, probing attack. The first attack took place at 4:35 am on 21 August with battalions from both divisions advancing from their lines to the outskirts of the city. They were met with extremely strong resistance, and in the maze of fortified cellars, ruined houses and block streets were continually harassed by the Germans. By the end of the day, the Canadians were forced to withdraw; they lost 1 154 soldiers in only one day.
Currie now knew what was waiting for him in Lens – a strong German force – but made an uncharacteristic miscalculation. Rather than bombard Lens from above and avoid any inner city combat, he decided to send the 4th Division back in to try and capture Green Crassier, a large slag heap to the south of the city. The 44th (Manitoba) Battalion was ordered into Lens on 23 August to try to take the Crassier, and while they managed to capture it initially, were left to hold it cut off from communications and without reinforcements. The 44th held out until the end of the day on 24 August but were forced to retreat and Curried called off the operation in Lens on 25 August 1917, ending the Battle of Hill 70. The city remained in German hands until the general German retreat of 1918. Total casualties for the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the period of 15 – 25 August 1917 were 9 198 killed, wounded, or missing.
The fighting at Lens demonstrated a form of warfare that would take precedence in the Second World War; urban warfare. Capturing the city required the Canadian Corps to go through Lens street by street to clear out all remaining enemy forces, something which they just did not have the resources or the training to do. Lens was the last time the Corps fought in a city until Valenciennes in 1918.
Full accounts of their lives and VC actions can be read by clicking on the hyperlinks in the men’s names.
Corporal Filip Konowal (47th (British Columbia) Battalion) – An immigrant from modern-day Ukraine, over two days of fighting, Konowal was involved in clearing cellars in the city. He attacked two machine gun nests single-handedly, killing their crews and destroying their guns. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery, the only Ukrainian-Canadian to receive one. Konowal’s post-war life was tragic; his family in Ukraine was believed killed during Stalin’s collectivization plan in the 1930s Konowal himself was convicted of murder after coming to the aid of a friend in 1919. He was institutionalized and treated for physical and mental traumas of the First World War. Later released, he worked as a janitor in the House of Commons.
Company Sergeant Major Robert Hill Hanna (29th (Vancouver) Battalion) – The second Canadian to receive a Victoria Cross during the attack on Lens. Both Hanna’s and Konowal’s VCs are counted as Battle of Hill 70 awards.
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