Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 15 August 2017

Courcelette Canadian Memorial.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today in France, the BVP2017 participants commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Hill 70. On the occasion, Cecilia gave a presentation on Japanese-Canadian Sergeant Masumi Mitsui who received the Military Medal for bravery, and Maddy gave her presentation on Ukrainian-Canadian Sergeant Filip Konowal who received the Victoria Cross.

(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)

Canadian Hill 70 Memorial
Credit: Peter Last, The Hill 70 Monument Project

Filip Konowal may have been born in the Ukraine, but everything he had, he gave to Canada. Today, I had the opportunity to visit Hill 70 to commemorate his life, his sacrifice, and his valour. In 1915, Konowal he enlisted with the 77th (Ottawa) Battalion. Once overseas he was transferred to the 47th (British Columbia) Battalion.

Three days before the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was promoted to acting corporal, successfully leading his men to their objectives. During the fighting at Hill 70 and Lens, Konowal served on a mopping-up party. Even after the quick capture of Hill 70, Konowal grew restless, claiming in a later interview “I was so fed up standing in the trench with water to my waist that I said to hell with it and started after the German army.” Acting alone, Konowal accounted for no less than three enemy machine gun posts, taking them with just his rifle, bayonet, grenades and bare hands. This act earned Filip a Victoria Cross for bravery. Late in the day of 22 August 1917, Konowal was 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.

Back in Canada, Filip Konowal’s physical and emotional injuries began to take their toll; he began to suffer hallucinations and in one instance, killed a man while coming to the aid of his friend who was being attacked. Due to his war injuries, which included severe brain trauma, Konowal was found not criminally responsible for the murder and placed in a hospital for treatment. Gradually healing from his wounds, upon release, Filip married a war widow. He wasn’t honored for his service until 1956, when other veterans raised awareness and funds to send Konowal to meet the queen who awarded him with a Branch Merit award. He would later work as the personal caretaker and messenger of the Prime Minister’s office on Parliament Hill. When Filip Konowal passed at the age of 72, his government record was labelled “died in service”, as he devoted himself entirely to our country. I am honored to have been able to commemorate him.

-Madelyn Burgess, Bow Island, Alberta

Enshia and Alisia, Villers Station Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

August 15th, 2017.
On this day 100 years ago, the Canadians attacked Hill 70 and today we visited the site where the battle took place. It was there that I shared the story of Japanese-Canadian soldier Masumi Mitsui. Although he was one of many Japanese soldiers who served during the war, his story applies to many of these brave soldiers. Due to discriminatory recruiting, Japanese-Canadians had a difficult time enlisting when the war broke out; some even travelled to different provinces to enlist.

They were also treated poorly at the front, as other soldiers made racist remarks and doubted their abilities. Additionally, there was a language barrier between the soldiers of different races, which was one of the reasons Mitsui was put in command of the Japanese soldiers from the 10th Battalion as he was fluent in English. Thirty of Mitsui’s thirty-five men lost their lives during the Battle of Hill 70 and all of them showed great courage in the face of danger. It is heartbreaking to know that later, during the Second World War, the veterans and their families, along with 21,000 other Japanese-Canadians were interned. Throughout the years, the Japanese-Canadian soldiers persevered through many different struggles and hardships. These soldiers, though they were not as recognized, also lived, loved and laughed in their homes and in their communities and made the ultimate sacrifice for us. “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

-Cecilia Kim, Surrey, British Columbia

 

Fauberg d’Amiens Arras Memorial (Flying Services Memorial)
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

I didn’t want to show tears in front of him because he was such a strong and resilient character; Captain Gordon Budd Irving didn’t fear the war. He occasionally complained about how boring his journey started but more often he wrote to his sister Fern, thanking her for fresh cake in a tin or telling her funny stories about the pals they knew. The worst parts of war never seemed to have gotten to him, the loneliness of being in the Royal Air Force never disconnected him from family and home. Reading the seventy-five letters that he sent home made me realize that he was truly daring and loving – he gave advice to his dad about selling the car and worried if his family would overwork themselves.

When I got to the Arras Flying Services Memorial, it took a while to find his name because subconsciously I wished for his name to be inscribed somewhere reachable, down to earth, just like his personality. But he was near the top of the rectangular column. Looking all the way up, I realized that is where he belonged – against the background of the clear sky that he fought so hard in. There is no longer a need for the Sopwith Dolphin to soar in the sky and Captain Gord is no longer flying in the skies. Never have I ever wished for more beautiful words to flow from my pen, these words just don’t seem enough. I do hope the words I whispered to him at the Memorial were enough to give him a sense of direction back to his school, his home, so that although he was reported missing on the August 11, 1918, he does not feel lost and can find his way home.

-Alisia Pan, North York, Ontario

 

Credit: Thomas Littlewood, Hanna Smyth, Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Thomas Littlewood, Hanna Smyth, Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Villers Station Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Lochnagar Crater.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.