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FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION
A part of our heritage...
WORLD WAR I was known as The Great War, a name that referred to its international scale, its massive mobilization of men, munitions and supplies, and its terrible toll on human life. Some say that the young country of Canada came of age in this war. Canadians won glory in the Royal Flying Corps, where Billy Bishop and Raymond Collishaw survived long enough to become aces of the air, and Roy Brown downed the Red Baron. However, it was also in the gruesome war of the trenches that Canadians demonstrated their endurance and courage.
Canadians fought and died in battles at Ypres, Mount Sorrel, Beaumont Hamel, Courcelette, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and Amiens. Sixty-nine Canadian soldiers earned the Victoria Cross in World War I, and by some strange coincidence, three of them lived on the same street -- Pine Street in Winnipeg, which was later renamed Valour Road in their honour.
CORPORAL LEO CLARKE won his V.C. in the trenches during the battle of the Somme. Clarke had found himself alone, under attack by 20 enemy soldiers. Instead of surrendering, Clarke attacked, emptying his revolver twice and then firing a German rifle he picked up from the ground. In the struggle that followed, a German officer bayonetted him in the knee before Clarke could shoot him. Wounded and bleeding, Clarke kept up the attack, and as enemy soldiers fled Clarke followed, killing four more and taking a prisoner. Though he was ordered to hospital, Clarke returned to battle the next day. Leo Clarke died in action a month later.
SERGEANT-MAJOR FREDERICK WILLIAM HALL was awarded the V.C. for giving his life to save a comrade at the battle of Ypres. With his company pinned down in the trenches by fierce enemy fire, Hall had gone out twice under cover of night to rescue injured men. On the morning of February 21, 1915, men in the trench heard the groans of an injured soldier on the battlefield. Hall and two others volunteered to go after him, but as they went over the top they drew heavy fire. The two other men were injured, and all were forced back to their trench. After a few minutes, Hall went out alone in broad daylight, with enemy guns waiting for him. He crawled out and across the field under a hail of bullets. Reaching for the fallen soldier, Hall managed to squirm himself under the wounded man and begin moving him on his back toward his lines. However, when Hall raised his head to find his way back to the trench, he caught a bullet in the head and died instantly.
At the battle of Passchendaele, LIEUTENANT ROBERT SHANKLAND led his men to a forward position which they held during a fierce counter-attack. Knowing that an accurate description of his company's position was critical to the Allied battle plan, Shankland made his way alone through the battlefield to Battalion Headquarters, delivered the necessary information, and returned the way he had come. Rejoining his men, Shankland carried on until the end of the battle. The citation of his Victoria Cross commends his personal courage, gallantry and skill, and emphasizes the example he set for the men under his command. Of the three Victoria Cross recipients from Valour Road, only Shankland survived the war.
The individual heroism of men like Clarke, Hall and Shankland is set against the background of the misery and horror of war. Canadians have rarely glorified their involvement in conflict; it is more characteristic of us to see the action of our soldiers in the Great War as the unavoidable and accepted duty of courageous men in the face of global tragedy. More than 50,000 young Canadians died in World War I. When it was over, the survivors returned home as older, sadder men, whose common hope was that there would never be another war like it again.
Heritage Minute Cast