BRAVE HEARTS

Sev­eral Man­i­to­bans among coun­try’s great­est war he­roes

Winnipeg Free Press - - REMEMBER - Doug.speirs@freep­ress.mb.ca

5) The Cana­dian hero:

Lt. Alexan­der Roberts Dunn

The story of courage: It may look like noth­ing more than a bronze cross at­tached to a strip of rib­bon, but the Vic­to­ria Cross is so much more. In­sti­tuted by Queen Vic­to­ria, it was the Com­mon­wealth’s premier mil­i­tary dec­o­ra­tion for gal­lantry and ex­cep­tional brav­ery in the face of the en­emy, an hon­our that has been pre­sented to 96 Cana­di­ans, or peo­ple closely as­so­ci­ated with Canada. It was su­per­seded in

1993 by the Cana­dian Vic­to­ria Cross, but the orig­i­nal British Em­pire dec­o­ra­tion has lost none of its lus­tre. In 1854, at the age of 21, Alexan­der Roberts Dunn stepped into his­tory as the first Cana­dian to be awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross for his ac­tions while serv­ing in the British army’s 11th Hus­sars dur­ing the Crimean War. Born in what is now Toronto in 1833, Dunn joined the Hus­sars as a ju­nior of­fi­cer in 1852. Two years later, he sailed with his reg­i­ment for Crimea, on the Black Sea in eastern Europe, where, on Oct. 25, 1854, the young lieu­tenant took part in the leg­endary Charge of the Light Brigade dur­ing the Bat­tle of Bala­clava. The brigade’s 670 cav­al­ry­men in­fa­mously charged Rus­sian guns at the end of a long, nar­row al­ley, with ad­di­tional en­emy can­nons on each side, in a heroic, al­beit sui­ci­dal, ex­am­ple of British mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline. The Cana­dian En­cy­clo­pe­dia says only 375 sol­diers re­turned un­harmed 25 min­utes later. “Dur­ing the with­drawal af­ter the charge, Dunn saved the life of a fel­low

11th Hus­sar, Troop Sergeant Bent­ley, whose horse would not keep up. He cut down three Rus­sian cav­al­ry­men who were at­tack­ing Bent­ley from the rear, giv­ing him time to es­cape. Later, he cut down an­other Rus­sian who was at­tack­ing a Hus­sar pri­vate,” the en­cy­clo­pe­dia says. Not only is Dunn con­sid­ered the first Cana­dian to have been awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross, he was the only of­fi­cer to earn it dur­ing the Charge of the Light Brigade. Dunn was also among the very first group of re­cip­i­ents to be awarded the newly cre­ated medal, gen­er­ally be­lieved to be made from Rus­sian can­nons cap­tured dur­ing the Crimean War. He died in 1868 af­ter a hunt­ing ac­ci­dent near Se­nafe, in present-day Eritrea. His grave lay for­got­ten un­til it was found by a British of­fi­cer in the fi­nal days of the Sec­ond World War.

4) The Cana­dian hero: Lance Cpl. Fred Fisher

The story of courage: While Alexan­der Roberts Dunn was the first Cana­dian to win the Vic­to­ria Cross, St. Catharines-born Fred­er­ick Fisher was the first to be awarded a VC while serv­ing in the Cana­dian mil­i­tary. Ten days af­ter his 20th birth­day, Fisher en­listed with the 5th Reg­i­ment, Royal High­landers of Canada, bet­ter known as the Black Watch. In the early days of the First World War, Fisher’s bat­tal­ion trained in south­ern Eng­land, where he re­port­edly learned to use a fairly new weapon of war, the ma­chine-gun. By mid-April, the Cana­di­ans were one of six Al­lied di­vi­sions de­ployed in a great arc along the Ypres Salient — a bulge in the Al­lied lines — in Bel­gium. At 5 p.m. on April 22, 1915, the Ger­mans pumped chlo­rine gas into the air at Ypres and a light breeze car­ried the green­ish-yel­low cloud to­ward the Al­lies. “The gas was ac­com­pa­nied by heavy ar­tillery fire and fol­lowed by a Ger­man at­tack. Many of the French colo­nial troops died gasp­ing in their trenches, while oth­ers broke and fled rear­ward. Three Ger­man di­vi­sions streamed through a six-kilo­me­tre gap that opened up next to Fisher’s bat­tal­ion,” ac­cord­ing to The Cana­dian En­cy­clo­pe­dia. A bat­tery of field guns needed to keep the Ger­mans at bay was at risk of fall­ing into en­emy hands and, when the bat­tery com­man­der re­al­ized he was about to be over­run, Fisher’s ma­chine-gun crew was sent to help. They set up their gun in an aban­doned build­ing and opened fire, forc­ing the Ger­mans back. Af­ter four of his crew were killed, Fisher re­turned to Cana­dian lines for re­in­force­ments, then re­sumed at­tack­ing the Ger­mans. The field guns were dis­man­tled and hauled out of dan­ger, which earned Fisher his VC. On April 23, while once again set­ting up his ma­chine-gun, Fisher was struck by a bul­let and died in­stantly. He was buried in a makeshift grave, but his body was never re­cov­ered. The CBC re­ported this month that Fisher’s VC was sent to his par­ents, as was a hand­writ­ten let­ter from King Ge­orge V, stat­ing: “It is a mat­ter of sin­cere re­gret to me that the death of Lance Cor­po­ral Fred­er­ick Fisher de­prived me of the pride of per­son­ally con­fer­ring upon him the Vic­to­ria Cross, the great­est of all mil­i­tary dis­tinc­tions.”

3) The Cana­dian hero: Wil­liam Ge­orge (Billy) Barker

The story of courage: Ev­ery­one adores Snoopy, but the great­est First World War fly­ing ace hailed from Man­i­toba. Wil­liam Ge­orge (Billy) Barker grew up rid­ing horses and hunt­ing on a farm near Dauphin, where his fa­ther taught him how to shoot a ri­fle. He was famed for be­ing adept at shoot­ing on the move, even on horse­back. He joined the mil­i­tary when the First World War broke out in 1914. When the Royal Fly­ing Corps be­gan tak­ing vol­un­teers, they were look­ing for sol­diers who had horse­back-rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause it was be­lieved rid­ing a horse re­quired a height­ened level of co-or­di­na­tion and phys­i­cal dex­ter­ity — the pre­cise traits wanted in a pi­lot. So Barker joined the corps in 1916 and be­came a pi­lot by Fe­bru­ary 1917. When he earned his pi­lot’s wings, he needed only 55 min­utes of in­struc­tion be­fore fly­ing solo. Dur­ing his re­mark­able ca­reer with the RFC, Barker was cred­ited with 53 aerial vic­to­ries — mak­ing him an ace 10 times over. It has been re­ported he wasn’t the most skilled pi­lot, but com­pen­sated for this de­fi­ciency with his ag­gres­sive style and amaz­ingly ac­cu­rate marks­man­ship. One of his most cel­e­brated ex­ploits came on Christ­mas Day 1917, when he and his wing­man, Lt. Harold Hud­son, caught the Ger­mans off guard, shoot­ing up an air­field, set­ting fire to a han­gar and dam­ag­ing four Ger­man planes be­fore drop­ping a plac­ard wish­ing their en­e­mies a “Happy Christ­mas.” It was on a flight over France in Oc­to­ber 1918 that he earned his Vic­to­ria Cross. On his way to Eng­land from the front lines, he sud­denly found him­self fac­ing an es­ti­mated 50 en­emy fighters. “In the bat­tle that en­sued, de­spite be­ing wounded three times in the legs and hav­ing most of one el­bow shot away, Barker re­pelled the Ger­mans and shot down four of their air­craft be­fore crash-land­ing in­side Al­lied lines. Se­verely wounded, he was awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross for his ac­tions,” the web­site of Li­brary and Ar­chives Canada notes. When he re­turned to Canada in May 1919, he was the most dec­o­rated Cana­dian of the war, with the Vic­to­ria Cross, the Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Or­der and Bar, the Mil­i­tary Cross and two bars, two Ital­ian Sil­ver Medals for Mil­i­tary Val­our, and the French Croix de guerre. Fel­low flyer Billy Bishop hailed him as “the dead­li­est air ace who ever lived.”

2) The Cana­dian hero: Sgt. Tommy Prince

The story of courage: It would be a gross un­der­state­ment to say the wartime ex­ploits of Sgt. Thomas Ge­orge (Tommy) Prince are the stuff of leg­end. “He was a quiet, or­di­nary man who had great­ness thrust upon him by the force of one of the great­est con­flicts in the his­tory of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion. It’s as if he was born and bred for one great task and then cast aside by the very so­ci­ety he fought for. He was a true son of his peo­ple and a great war­rior,” the In­dige­nous news­pa­per First Na­tions Drum de­clared. Born in a can­vas tent in 1915 and raised on Bro­ken­head Ojib­way Na­tion, about 70 kilo­me­tres north­east of Win­nipeg, Prince was the great-great­grand­son of Saulteaux Chief Peguis. One of 11 chil­dren in his fam­ily, he be­came a marks­man when he joined the army cadets. “As soon as I put on my uni­form,” he once re­marked, ac­cord­ing to a fea­ture in the Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen, “I felt like a bet­ter man. I even tried to wear it to class.” From hum­ble be­gin­nings, this Man­i­toba hero went on to be­come one of the most dec­o­rated In­dige­nous sol­diers in Cana­dian his­tory, fight­ing hero­ically in both the Sec­ond World War and the Korean War. He was hon­oured with 11 medals dur­ing his ser­vice, in­clud­ing re­ceiv­ing the Mil­i­tary Medal from King Ge­orge VI. He was one of only 59 Cana­di­ans to re­ceive the Sil­ver Star from the United States. In 1942, he an­swered a call for parachutists for the Cana­dian Para­chute Bat­tal­ion, which was then at­tached to an elite U.S.-Cana­dian com­mando unit known as the First Spe­cial Ser­vice Force, or “Devil’s Brigade.” One of his most cel­e­brated ex­ploits came in Anzio, Italy, in 1944, when he fa­mously vol­un­teered to run a com­mu­ni­ca­tion line 1,400 me­tres to an aban­doned farm­house just spit­ting dis­tance from a Ger­man ar­tillery po­si­tion. For three days, he re­ported on Ger­man move­ments via a com­mu­ni­ca­tion wire. “When the wire was sev­ered dur­ing shelling, he dis­guised him­self as a peas­ant farmer and pre­tended to work the land around the farm­house,” The Cana­dian En­cy­clo­pe­dia re­calls. “He stooped to tie his shoes and fixed the wire while Ger­man sol­diers watched, obliv­i­ous to his true iden­tity.” Fol­low­ing the end of the Korean War, he re­turned to Win­nipeg, where he suf­fered from ad­dic­tion is­sues. At one point, he sold his medals to feed his ad­dic­tion. He died in 1977. When a col­lec­tor put Prince’s medals up for sale at pub­lic auc­tion in 1997, a lo­cal fundrais­ing ef­fort fi­nanced their pur­chase and re­turn to Win­nipeg, where they were pre­sented to the Prince fam­ily.

1) The Cana­dian hero(es): The Pine Street Boys — Sgt. Maj. Fred­er­ick Wil­liam Hall, Lt. Robert Shank­land and Cpl. Leo Beau­mau­rice Clarke

The sto­ries of courage: Three heroic young men. Three Vic­to­ria Crosses. And one hum­ble street in Win­nipeg. If you’re a Win­nipeg­ger — or sim­ply a pa­tri­otic Cana­dian — you know the story of the Pine Street Boys: Leo Clarke, Fred­er­ick Wil­liam Hall and Robert Shank­land. All three earned the Vic­to­ria Cross while fight­ing for their coun­try in the First World War. Even more re­mark­ably, all three hailed from the 700 block of what was then called Pine Street in Win­nipeg’s West End. In 1925, the street they called home was re­named Val­our Road in their hon­our. Here are their sto­ries: Sgt. Maj. Fred­er­ick Wil­liam Hall was

30 years old on April 24, 1915, dur­ing the 2nd Bat­tle of Ypres in Bel­gium, in­fa­mous as the site of the first Ger­man gas at­tack on the west­ern front. Hall was shot in the fore­head and killed dur­ing a valiant at­tempt to res­cue a wounded com­rade call­ing for help about 15 me­tres from a trench. Hall was lift­ing the wounded man when he was struck. Cpl. Leo Clarke was 24 at the Somme front in France on Sept. 9,

1916, when he and his men fought their way into the cen­tre of the en­emy po­si­tion and came un­der coun­ter­at­tack. Clarke was wounded by a bay­o­net in the knee but con­tin­ued to fight alone, killing 18 en­emy sol­diers and tak­ing one pris­oner. Though he was told to go to hos­pi­tal, he re­turned to duty the next day. He died when a shell blast buried him in a trench a month later. Lt. Robert Shank­land was 30 dur­ing the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele, Bel­gium, in Oc­to­ber 1917, when he led the rem­nants of his own pla­toon and men from other com­pa­nies to in­flict heavy ca­su­al­ties on the re­treat­ing en­emy. He later stopped a coun­ter­at­tack, then made his way through the bat­tle­field to com­mu­ni­cate his com­pany’s po­si­tion to the bat­tal­ion head­quar­ters be­fore re­turn­ing to re­join his men and hold the po­si­tion un­til re­lieved. He sur­vived the war, served in the Sec­ond World War and died at age 80 on Jan. 20, 1968. In 2014, their medals were loaned to the Man­i­toba Mu­seum for an ex­hibit to mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the start of the Great War.

Lest we for­get.

DEREK RUTTAN / LON­DON FREE PRESS FILES

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