Sussex man seeks plaque for war hero’s birthplace
A resident of the birthplace of Glengarry’s only Victoria Cross winner continues to seek recognition for the First World War hero.
Peter Silk, of St. Leonards on Sea, Hastings, Sussex – the town where former North Lancaster resident Claude Nunney was born in July 1892 – told The News via email recently that he is “presenting a paper” to Hastings Borough Council this month asking for its support in placing an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the house where Mr. Nunney entered the world almost a century-and-a-quarter ago.
“As 2017 will be the 125th anniversary of his birth, my aim is to have it ready for next summer,” said Mr. Silk. “I have been talking with the (current) owners of the house, and they are on-side (with the plaque erection).”
Mr. Silk has an avid interest in Claude Nunney’s life and military career, having written extensively about him over the past two decades. He has even been to Alexandria and Ottawa to conduct research on the local hero. “His was a remarkable life in many ways,” Mr. Silk told The News in April 2014, pointing out how Mr. Nunney’s status as “a highly-decorated soldier,” as well as the fact that he was a ‘Home Child,’ were certainly worthy of special recognition.
Claude Nunney came to Canada as a 13-year-old orphan, along with a brother, arriving in Ottawa in 1905.
A third brother, George, had arrived here a few years earlier, but drowned in a swimming accident in July 1908.
According to an August 1962 article in The News – published to commemorate the erection of an Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board plaque near the site of his North Lancaster residence earlier that month – “Dr. D.D. McDonald of Alexandria took an interest” in young Claude after visiting him at St. George’s Home (an orphanage) in the nation’s capital, and subsequently sent the boy to live with his mother at her farm in Pine Hill (North Lancaster).
He attended the local Separate School No. 9 in Lancaster Township and worked on neighbourhood farms to earn pocket money.
Following Mrs. McDonald’s death in 1912, Claude continued working on farms in the area before leaving Glengarry to travel across the country.
He led the life of an itinerant labourer before heeding the call of ‘King and Country’ and enlisting with the Canadian army in 1915.
Mr. Nunney was awarded the Victoria Cross, posthumously, in December 1918, just over a month after the armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany marking the end of World War I.
He received the VC – the British Empire’s highest military honour – for his actions during the fighting near Vis-en-Artois, France, on Sept. 1 and 2, 1918.
The only Canadian serviceman of the First World War to receive the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Military Medal (MM), Pte. Nunney suffered two fatal wounds in the Vis-en-Artois battle and died in hospital two weeks later at the age of 25.
The British ‘Blue Plaque’ program – similar to the one administered by the Ontario Heritage Trust to honour significant historical figures and events in the province – is overseen by English Heritage to, according to their website, commemorate “the link between notable figures of the past and buildings in which they lived and worked.” Plaque creations and dedication initiatives are led by volunteer groups. Mr. Silk has already procured the support of a local organization in Hastings to help cover the associated costs ( £1,000 or about $1,700 CDN) of the project.
The initiative also has the backing of South Glengarry council, which sent a letter of support to Mr. Silk in the summer of 2014.
The text on the plaque – which will likely be circular or ovate in shape – would read as follows: ‘VC Badge, Private Claude Nunney, VC DCM MM, 19th July 1892 – 18th September 1918, 38th Canadian Expeditionary Force & Home Child, was born here; Hastings Borough Council.’