Leave – Part IV

“Paris, France. 1918-08-20. A group of Australian, New Zealand and South African soldiers and a lady from the New Zealand Volunteer Service relaxing on leave with a drink outside the Maxime Bar.”
Credit: AWM, H03656.

Today we return to our series on Leave, following Canadians as they escape to the relative safety and excitement of London or Paris. Having received their passes, a group of soldiers would scurry off to the nearest transport that would take them to their period of bliss in the big cities. For the troops from far-off Canada, the lifestyle of Paris was shockingly unique:

“Paris was a beautiful city being at its best in this, the late summer… The people of Paris seemed to take the Canadians to their hearts and they vied with one another in their efforts to give us a good time on our short stay. Of (wine, women and song) there was certainly no lack… Being young and newly arrived from a section of Hell we fell into their ways without quibble, deciding to “Do As The Romans Do”… to start making the most of the short time given us in that bright beautiful city” (Iriam, In The Trenches, 1914-1918, p. 211).

“In the afternoons of the last week in Paris we used to sit at the little round tables under the awnings that were stretched in front of many hotel fronts at the margin of the sidewalk. So long as you ordered some sort of refreshment every quarter hour or so you could remain there undisturbed, except by Gaston who came around with a towel over his arm to take your orders. From this comfortable vantage you could study the life and movement of the boulevards and it was always highly interesting to a stranger” (Iriam, In The Trenches, 1914-1918, p. 211-212). 

See the previous entry, Leave – Part III, here – https://www.vimyfoundation.ca/26-july-2017/

17 September 1944
Operation Market Garden

“British paratroopers on their way to Arnhem in a USAAF C-47 aircraft on 17 September 1944.”
© IWM (K 7586)
“Paratroops drop from Dakota aircraft over the outskirts of Arnhem, 17 September 1944.”
© IWM (BU 1162)

On this day in 1944, the Allies launch Operation Market Garden, dropping thousands of troops behind enemy lines by parachute and glider to seize a number of bridges before the enemy can demolish them, while land forces rush north through the new corridor.

At Arnhem, the furthest drop point behind enemy lines, British troops are expected to fight for just a few days before Allied land forces reach them. Instead, cut-off and surrounded, with meager supplies, the British hold out for 10 days.

A few individual Canadians were at Arnhem, including Stanley Maxted, as a war correspondent with the BBC. In light of the battle’s disastrous course, Maxted’s surviving recordings are invaluable records of the Battle of Arnhem.

“They’re such fighters, if they can only get the stuff to fight with…”

In this recording, Maxted is watching Allied supply planes drop bundles over the beleaguered British, as German guns blast away at the slow-moving targets. In a cruel twist of fate, very few of the supply drops ever reached the British, instead falling on German positions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nk5_5wQOCDw

 

Slang of the First World War
"Duck's Breakfast"

Today is #NationalEatOutsideDay. Did you know in the First World War, to have a “duck’s breakfast” meant the simple pleasure of a face-wash and drink of water? (Doyle, Walker, Trench Talk – Words of the First World War, p. 144).
A Canadian enjoys a “duck’s breakfast” in May 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001193.

Epitaphs of the First World War
Part I

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.

Earl MacKinnon, of Scotch Settlement, New Brunswick was with the 10th (Canadians) Battalion just 16 days before he was killed in action at Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/Personnel Records of the First World War – CEF 531398a, Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7001 – 20, Item Number: 166537, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).
Earl MacKinnon’s epitaph was requested by his father. (See Row 1202/1D in this Headstone Schedule from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).
Credit: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 2017.

 

Canada’s Dream Shall be of Them
Epitaphs of the First World War

“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.
Courtesy: Veterans Affairs Canada, 2017.

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

The Battle of Hill 70 Ends
A Centenary Action

“Canadian Scots resting in village near Lens. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the Boche. September, 1917.”
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001853

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.

“German concrete reinforced houses on outskirts of Lens. September, 1917.”
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-003890.

Beachcomber & The Dieppe Raid
19 August 1942

“Beachcomber is being presented with his PDSA Dickin Medal by Dorothea St. Hill Bourne, Secretary of the PDSA Allied Forces Mascot Club.”
Source: Britain’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

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. Consequently, in honour of our #BVP2017 group returning home and the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid last Saturday, we are sharing the brief story of an animal that returned home as well, and received a medal for it.

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 PDSA Dickin Medal
© IWM (EPH 3546)

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/what-we-do/animal-honours/the-dickin-medal   

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 21 August 2017

Saying our goodbyes, including Franky, our trusty bus driver the last two weeks!
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

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)

Moving

Lala Israfilova, Carshalton, Sutton, United Kingdom

Hors-du-commune

-Paul Toquebouef, Boulogne, France

Life-changing

-Claire Belliveau, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Bridging

-Katy Whitfield, Toronto, Ontario

Inspiring

-Evan Kanter, Toronto, Ontario

Connecting

-Abbey Garrett, Conception Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador

Motivating

-Cecilia Kim, Surrey, British Columbia

Loving

-Maddy Burgess, Bow Island, Alberta

Magical

-Ariadne Douglas, Prince George, British Columbia

Empowering

-Enshia Li, Richmond Hill, Ontario

Thought-provoking

-Hanna Smyth, Richmond, British Columbia 

Enlightening

-David Alexander, Pointe-Claire, Quebec

Real

-Alisia Pan, North York, Ontario

Educational

-Patricia Kennedy, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Surprising

-Rachel Collishaw, Ottawa, Ontario

Le temps

-Yaman Awad, Anjou, Quebec

Learning

-Thomas Littlewood, Ottawa, Ontario

Significant

-Eric Jose, Oshawa, Ontario

Brilliant

-Cole Oien, Calgary, Alberta

Perspective

-Daniel Schindel, Surrey, British Columbia

Corporal Filip Konowal, VC
A Centenary Action

Corporal Filip Konowal, in London prior to receiving his Victoria Cross.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-006732.

22-24 August 1917 

Corporal Filip Konowal, photographed in London after receiving the Victoria Cross.
© IWM (Q 69170)

Filip Konowal emmigrated to Canada from Siberia in 1913. Born in present-day Ukraine, Konowal had served as 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 LensKonowal 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 (VasylArtich in Hull, Quebec.  Konowal’s friend, Leonti Diedek, had been attacked by Artich and Konowal came to Diedek’s rescue. In a resulting struggle, during which Artich struck Konowal 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). 

An older Filip Konowal, photographed after the war. The scars and trauma of his wounds became more evident as he aged.
Credit: Vladimir J. Kaye/Library and Archives Canada/C-010023.

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 intMontreal’s Saint Jean de Dieu Hospital (now the Institut universitaire en 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 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.  

The official medal citation for then-Corporal Filip Konowal, VC (second to last at bottom of left-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 23 November 1917, Supplement: 30400, Page: 12329.

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/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 starting and this may have been taken into consideration as the “two-day period”.

Company Sergeant-Major Robert Hanna, VC
A Centenary Action

CSM Robert Hanna, VC, and Pte Michael James O’Rourke, VC, MM, in London after receiving their Victoria Crosses (O’Rourke’s can be seen pinned to his chest).
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-006656.

21 August 1917

CSM Robert Hanna, VC.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence, 2017.

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 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.

The official medal citation for CSM Robert Hanna, VC (right-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication Date: 6 November 1917, Supplement: 30372, Page: 11568.