War Mu­seum teams up with sol­dier’s great-grand­daugh­ter to buy Vic­to­ria Cross

Simcoe Reformer - Times-Reformer - - COMMUNITY CALENDAR - LEE BERTHI­AUME

OT­TAWA — A rare medal awarded to a Cana­dian sol­dier for ex­treme brav­ery at the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele in 1917 will be stay­ing in Canada thanks to the Cana­dian War Mu­seum — and the sol­dier’s great-grand­daugh­ter.

Cpl. Colin Bar­ron’s Vic­to­ria Cross was sold Tues­day by an auc­tion house for $420,000, al­most a cen­tury after Bar­ron crept be­hind en­emy lines at Pass­chen­daele to take out sev­eral ma­chine-gun nests.

Some feared the medal — sold by Bar­ron’s grand­son in Toronto about 30 years ago to sup­port him­self and his only daugh­ter, Lesley Bar­ron Kerr — would be bought by a for­eign col­lec­tor.

But the Cana­dian War Mu­seum has con­firmed that it suc­cess­fully pur­chased the medal with help from Kerr, who do­nated an undis­closed amount of money to make sure it stayed in Canada.

“It was a huge sense of re­lief,” Kerr said in an in­ter­view on Tues­day after learn­ing of the pur­chase.

“My first choice, of course, was for me to have it, though I would still dis­play it at the war mu­seum. But it’s a very close sec­ond, so I’m happy. And it stayed in Canada, so it is ac­ces­si­ble to me and my kids.”

Bar­ron was one of nine Cana­di­ans to re­ceive a Vic­to­ria Cross for ac­tions at Pass­chen­daele, which has gone down in his­tory as one of the blood­i­est and most con­tro­ver­sial bat­tles of the First World War.

On Nov. 6, 1917, the 24-year-old, who was born in Scot­land but moved to Canada in 1910, man­aged to sneak be­hind the Ger­man lines and take out sev­eral ma­chine-guns that had been hold­ing up the Cana­dian at­tack.

The ci­ta­tion for Bar­ron’s Vic­to­ria Cross would later credit his ac­tions with hav­ing “pro­duced far-reach­ing re­sults and en­abled the ad­vance to be con­tin­ued.”

He died at Sun­ny­brook Hospi­tal in Toronto in 1958.

This isn’t the first Vic­to­ria Cross that the Cana­dian War Mu­seum has tried to buy this year; it bid un­suc­cess­fully in Au­gust for the cross awarded to Maj. David Cur­rie dur- ing the Sec­ond World War.

But Mark O’Neill, head of the fed­eral Crown cor­po­ra­tion that runs the war mu­seum, said ac­quir­ing Bar­ron’s Vic­to­ria Cross on the 100th an­niver­sary of Pass­chen­daele was es­pe­cially mean­ing­ful.

“This medal is a tes­ta­ment to one sol­dier’s courage and a sym­bol of the ser­vice and sac­ri­fice of all Cana­dian sol­diers who fought on the Western Front a cen­tury ago,” O’Neill added in a state­ment.

The Cana­dian War Mu­seum now owns 37 Vic­to­ria Crosses, in­clud­ing five of the nine awarded for ac­tions at Pass­chen­daele.

While Kerr’s in­volve­ment in the bid­ding adds a per­sonal element to the story, it al­most didn’t hap­pen.

Kerr had lost track of the medal when her father sold it to a col­lec­tor after Kerr’s mother left and was look­ing for it when she learned from a report last month by The Cana­dian Press that it was go­ing on sale.

But when she re­al­ized the ask­ing price was out of her reach, she de­cided to team up with the mu­seum to make sure that her great-grand­fa­ther’s medal re­mained on Cana­dian soil.

“I emailed them at first ask­ing if they were in­ter­ested in bid­ding and if we could work to­gether to se­cure the medal,” Kerr, who owns a suc­cess­ful karate busi­ness in the Toronto area, said in an in­ter­view on Tues­day.

“And then weeks go by and there was no re­sponse, so I wasn’t sure if they were plan­ning on bid­ding at all.”

It was only last Fri­day that the mu­seum, which nor­mally doesn’t re­veal whether it plans to bid in auc­tions for Cana­dian mil­i­tary medals and other para­pher­na­lia, fi­nally re­sponded.

Kerr said she plans to bring her fam­ily to Ot­tawa in the com­ing days to see her great-grand­fa­ther’s Vic­to­ria Cross — and per­haps hold it.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Lesley Bar­ron Kerr sits with a signed let­ter from the Queen from a 1956 review of hold­ers of the Vic­to­ria Cross, in her Vaughan, Ont., home on Mon­day. Kerr’s great grand­fa­ther was awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross for his ser­vice at Pass­chen­daele, and she, along with the Cana­dian War Mu­seum, have bought the medal that was put up for auc­tion.

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