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War Museum lands two more Victoria Crosses won by Canadians

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BerichtGeplaatst: 29 Jun 2010 13:22    Onderwerp: War Museum lands two more Victoria Crosses won by Canadians Reageer met quote

War Museum lands two more Victoria Crosses won by Canadians

A year after a controversial auction that saw the federal government spend almost $300,000 to prevent a historic Victoria Cross from leaving the country, the Canadian War Museum has quietly — and frugally —acquired two more of the coveted medals, including another of the storied "Valour Road" VCs awarded to three First World War soldiers from the same street in Winnipeg.

The museum's military heritage coup, to be officially announced Wednesday, not only preserves two significant pieces of Canadian war history but also saves taxpayers a bundle. Both medals — Cpl. Leo Clarke's VC from the 1916 Battle of the Somme and Lieut. John Mahony's VC from the Italian campaign of 1944 — were secured as donations at a time when such artifacts are in hot demand among international collectors and can sell at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Clarke's Victoria Cross is a particularly poignant acquisition after the museum's $288,000 purchase last year — with strong backing from the Conservative government — of the VC awarded to his fellow resident of Winnipeg's Pine Street, Lieut. Robert Shankland.

The potential loss of that medal to a foreign buyer had prompted then-Veterans Affairs minister Greg Thompson to vow to do "whatever it takes" to make sure the "powerful and enduring symbol" of Canadian courage remained in the country.

A third resident of Pine Street — later renamed Valour Road to recognize the remarkable coincidence — also won the Victoria Cross during the 1914-18 war. Sgt.-Major Frederick Hall's medal is still in private hands.

With the addition of the medals awarded to Clarke and Mahony — a native of New Westminster, B.C., who died in London, Ont., in 1990 — the museum now holds 32 of the 94 VCs granted to Canadians since the award was instituted in 1856 by Queen Victoria for all Commonwealth countries.

Mahony's VC is also special because it's the first to be acquired by the museum for a hero of the Italian front, one of the three major overseas land campaigns — along with Hong Kong and northwest Europe — fought by the Canadian army in the Second World War.

The two VCs and other medals awarded to Clarke and Mahony "were in the hands of the families, and the families thought the best place to donate them would be the War Museum," Jim Whitham, acting manager of collections, told Canwest News Service. "I like to think it's because of what the museum is and does and how it presents history."

He noted that the donations "didn't just happen" and were the result of years of "cultivating relationships" with the families and discussing how the medals would be protected and exhibited to honour the heroes behind them.

The VC awarded to Clarke is particularly important because it was presented on Canadian soil. Just two months after performing the brave deed that earned him his country's highest military honour — a successful, single-handed assault on 20 German soldiers at the Somme — Clarke was killed by enemy shellfire at age 24.

So it was Clarke's father, at a 1917 ceremony attended by thousands, who accepted the medal from the Governor General of the day, the Duke of Devonshire.

Mahony was awarded his Victoria Cross for leading his men in taking a key enemy position "against overwhelming odds" along Italy's Melfa River in May 1944. Then, in a "particularly heroic move," the museum states, he rescued a trapped group of soldiers "by crawling forward with the aid of smoke grenades and leading the men to safety."

Though Mahony suffered a head injury and two leg wounds in the battle, he survived the war and lived to age 79.

"These medal sets will help the Museum document the country's role in both World Wars and keep alive the remarkable legacy of Canada's veterans," said Mark O'Neill, the museum's director general.

"They will help us convey to a new generation what their forebears endured and achieved in the fight against tyranny."

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
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Percy Toplis

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BerichtGeplaatst: 29 Jun 2010 16:33    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Leo Clarke

Leo Clarke, VC (December 1, 1892 – October 19, 1916) was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Early life - Clarke was born in Waterdown, Ontario. He spent his early years in England, home of his parents, but later returned and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba in about 1903. When World War I started, he was working as a surveyor for the Canadian National Railway in the Canadian north. He returned to Winnipeg to enlist in the 27th Battalion, and after arriving in England in June 1915, transferred to the 2nd (Eastern Ontario Regiment) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force to be with his brother, Charles.

Victoria Cross - The main assault of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette was scheduled for September 15, 1916. Its objective was to occupy a chain of trenches between Martinpuich and Courcelette. On September 1, 1916, Clarke's battalion was charged with capturing a 50-yard-long salient between the Canadian position at Mouquet Farm and Courcelette to the north.

On September 9, 1916, near Pozieres, France, the first three companies of Clarke's battalion went over the top, leaving the fourth in reserve. Clarke, an Acting Corporal at the time, was assigned to take a section to clear the enemy on the left flank to allow his company sergeant to build a fortified dugout that would secure the Canadian position once the salient was overrun. When his section reached the trench, it was so heavily defended that they had to battle their way through with hand grenades, bayonets and their rifles as clubs. Clarke was the only man left standing; the rest had either been killed or wounded.

At that time, about 20 Germans, including two officers, counter-attacked. Clarke advanced, emptying his revolver into them. He then picked up two enemy rifles and fired those too. One of the officers attacked with a bayonet, wounding Clarke in the leg, but Clarke shot him dead. The Germans retreated, but Clarke pursued, shooting four more and capturing a fifth. In all, Clarke killed 19 of the enemy, capturing one.

Death - On October 11, 1916, Clarke's battalion was ordered forward to secure the newly captured Regina Trench which was still under heavy enemy artillery fire. Clarke was crouching in a hole at the rear of a trench when a shell exploded and the back of the trench caved in, burying him. His brother dug him out, but Clarke was paralyzed; the weight of the earth had crushed his back and injured his spine. Clarke was taken to No. 1 General Hospital, but died on October 19. He is buried in Plot II, Row C, Grave 3A, in Etretat Churchyard, 16 miles north of Le Havre, France. According to a contemporary newspaper article, shortly before his death he wrote his parents, stating: "I don't care so much for the V.C. as getting home for a couple of months."

Legacy - Clarke was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in the spring of 1917. It was presented, by the Duke of Devonshire (Governor General of Canada in 1917), to Leo's father before a crowd of 30,000. This was the first time the VC had been presented to a commonwealth recipient in his own country.

In 1925, Pine Street in Winnipeg was renamed "Valour Road" in honor of Clarke and fellow Victoria Cross winners Frederick William Hall and Robert Shankland, all of whom lived on the 700 block. A plaque in his honor was erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation at the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Waterdown.

Clarke's story was featured in a Historica vignette, which was run nationally in Canada.
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Percy Toplis

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BerichtGeplaatst: 29 Jun 2010 16:37    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Major John Keefer Mahony V.C.

John Keefer Mahony was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, on the 30th of June 1911. He received his education at the Duke of Connaught High School, New Westminster and then entered the world of journalism as a reporter with the 'Vancouver Province'. Prior to the outbreak of war he had been an officer in the Westminster Regiment of the militia and he was among the first to enlist for active service. On the cessation of hostilities he remained in the army until 1962 serving successively as Commandant Cadet Officer of the Western Command, Director of Publications for the Canadian Army and Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General of the Western Ontario Area. On the 5th of April 1954, Lieutenant-Colonel Mahony went to Washington, D.C. as Canadian Army Liaison Officer. He retired to London, Ontario where he engaged in youth work. At his own request, he was buried without a military funeral. He died on the 16th of December 1990.

On the 24th May, 1944, "A" Company of the Westminster Regiment (Motor), under the command of Major Mahony, was ordered to establish the initial bridgehead across the River Melfa.

The enemy still had strong forces of tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry holding defensive positions on the east side of the river. Despite this, Major Mahony personally led his company down to and across the river, being with the leading section. Although the crossing was made in full view of and under heavy fire from enemy machine-gun posts on the right rear and left front, he personally directed each section into its proper position on the west bank with the greatest coolness and confidence. The crossing was made and a small bridgehead was established on ground where it was only possible to dig shallow weapon pits. From 1530 hours the company maintained itself in the face of enemy fire and attack until 2030 hours, when the remaining companies and supporting weapons were able to cross the river and reinforce them.

The bridgehead was enclosed on three sides by an 88 mm. Self-propelled gun 450 yards to the right, a battery of four 2cm. A.A. guns 100 yards to the left, a Spandau 100 yards to the left of it, to the left of the Spandau a second 88 mm. Self-propelled gun, and approximately a company of infantry with mortars and machine-guns on the left of the 88 mm. gun. From all these weapons, Major Mahony's company was constantly under fire until it eventually succeeded in knocking out the self-propelled equipment and the infantry on the left flank.

Shortly after the bridgehead had been established, the enemy counter-attacked with infantry supported by tanks and self-propelled guns. The counter-attack was beaten off by the company with its P.I.A.T.'s (1), 2" mortars and grenades, due to the skill with which Major Mahony had organized his defences. With absolute fearlessness and disregard for his own safety, Major Mahony personally directed the fire of his P.I.A.T.'s throughout this action, encouraging and exhorting his men. By this time, the company strength had been reduced to 60 men, and all but one of the Platoon Officers had been wounded. Scarcely an hour later, enemy tanks formed up about 500 yards in front of the bridgehead and in company with about a Company of infantry, launched a second counter-attack. Major Mahony, determined to hold the position at all costs, went from section to section with words of encouragement, personally directing fire of mortars and other weapons.

At one stage, a section was pinned down in the open by accurate and intense machine-gun fire. Major Mahony crawled forward to their position, and by throwing smoke grenades, succeeded in extricating the section from its position with the loss of only one man. This counter-attack was finally beaten off with the destruction of three enemy self-propelled guns and one Panther tank.

Early in the action, Major Mahony was wounded in the head and twice in the leg, but he refused medical aid and continued to direct the defence of the bridgehead, despite the fact that movement of any kind caused him extreme pain. It was only when the remaining companies of the regiment had crossed the river to support him that he allowed his wounds to be dressed and even then refused to be evacuated, staying instead with his company.

The forming and holding of a bridgehead across the river was vital to the whole Canadian Corps action, and failure would have meant delay, a repetition of the attack, probably involving heavy losses in men, material and time, and would have given the enemy a breathing space which might have broken the impetus of the Corps' advance.

Major Mahony, knowing this, never allowed the thought of failure or withdrawal to enter his mind, and infused his spirit and determination into all his men. At the first sign of hesitation or faltering, Major Mahony was there to encourage, by his own example, those who were feeling the strain of battle. The enemy perceived that this officer was the soul of the defence and consequently fired at him constantly with all weapons, from rifle to 88 mm. guns. Major Mahony completely ignored the enemy fire and with great courage and absolute disregard for personal danger, commanded his company with such great confidence, energy and skill that the enemy's efforts to destroy the bridgehead were all defeated.

The great courage shown by Major Mahony in this action will forever be an inspiration to his Regiment and to the Canadian Army.
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“I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find that you are not, l hope you have the strength to start all over again.
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