Sunday, November 19, 2017

Victoria Cross

I am finishing my series from the War Museum today. Stepping out of Regeneration Hall brings us into the final display area, Lebreton Gallery, where vehicles and equipment are on display in the large open space. This includes two large plaques on a wall. These stood once in the Toronto flagship store of the Eaton's department store chain, and commemorated those employees of the company who fought and died in both World Wars.

There is a wealth of equipment here, from different eras and different parts of the world.

This is a diorama featuring one aspect of the First World War battle of Passchendaele. A German pillbox has been cut away to show the men inside. To the right, in one of the puddles of mud that was so typical of that battle, stands a lone Canadian. Sergeant Tommy Holmes won the Victoria Cross for courage- he and his battalion were pinned down by heavy fire, and he was able to use grenades to remove the threat. The vivid detail, with men down in the mud, captures the brutality of the battle, which marked a Canadian victory one hundred years ago this year, albeit a costly one.

Another larger view of the Gallery includes the Voodoo fighter jet.

This is Weather Station Kurt, a legacy of the Second World War. The crew of a German U-Boat installed this automated weather station at the northern edge of Labrador in 1943 to transmit weather conditions back to Germany, disguised with English lettering to look as if it was Canadian. The equipment ceased transmitting soon thereafter, and the weather station went forgotten for decades until a researcher in Germany going over records traced its existence and informed the Canadian government. Kurt now resides here.

Here we have the ramp taking us up towards the main entrance hall. Large panels of art are on the wall to the right.

Coming back out to where I had started my visit were six paintings. These were portraits of men who fought in the Battle of Hill 70, a ferocious fight between Canadian and German troops, from August 15th to 25th, 1917, near Lens, France. Casualties on both sides were horrendous, but it was a victory for the Canadians, and six Canadian soldiers won the Victoria Cross as a result of their actions throughout the battle. When you read the stories of men who did this, they won it by doing things that by all rights simply could not be done.

Michael James O'Rourke is at the left. Already having had distinguished himself at the Somme, he was a stretcher bearer at Hill 70, where he showed great courage under fire in tending to wounded comrades and getting them to the rear lines. His citation reads that he "showed throughout an absolute disregard for his own safety, going wherever there were wounded to succour." Harry Brown is at the right. He was a message runner during the battle, taking messages from headquarters to the lines, something that was done in pairs in case one was killed. His partner was killed, and Brown himself severely wounded, but he kept moving until he delivered his final message, dying shortly thereafter.

Frederick Hobson is on the left. A sergeant manning a machine gun on the fourth day of the battle, Hobson drove back a German counter attack against his battalion's lines with concentrated fire. When his gun jammed, he rushed forward into the German lines, shooting, stabbing, and clubbing German troops until he was killed in close combat. His sacrifice gave the Canadians time to regroup and push back the German counterattack. On the right, Filip Konowal was a corporal in the battle, leading other men against German lines, at one point fighting seven Germans at once, and killing them all. Wounded in battle, he nonetheless survived the war and passed away in 1959.

Okill Massey Learmonth is on the left. On August 18, 1917, he organized defences of the lines against German counter attacks. Mortally wounded, he still maintained directing his men into pushing back the Germans, dying of his wounds the following day. On the right is Robert Hill Hanna. He took command of his company after the officers had been killed in three previous assaults during the battle. In their fourth assault, he led the company in bringing down a German machine gun nest, an act that his citation commends him for: "but for his daring action and determined handling of a desperate situation, the capture of a most important tactical point would not have succeeded." Hanna's portrait is done by A.Y. Jackson, who spent the war as a military artist, and was a founder of the Group of Seven. 


  1. Amazing stories. That diorama really portrays some of the misery of World War I.

  2. Incredible stories, William.

  3. Isaiah 2:4

    He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore

  4. We thank them with gratitude. And you for sharing, William

  5. Hello, I agree with Cloudia above. We do thank all the veterans and war heroes. I enjoy seeing the paintings of the soldiers. Happy Sunday, enjoy your day and new week ahead.

  6. @Kay: four years of utter hell.

    @Jo: these men did the impossible. Whatever else one thinks of the Great War, they must be respected.

    @Tom: that sometimes seems long away.

    @Cloudia: you're welcome.

    @Eileen: thank you.

  7. Thanks William, this has been a brilliant series about the War Museum. It's dreadful to think about the conditions that those young men, and women in the nursing corp, had to endure. Hate to think what a war today would look like šŸ˜¶

  8. Good example of heroism. I'm sure there were many more. Just to be on the battlefield took tremendous courage.

  9. My life so far has been spent in peace. Also my son's lives, and my grandchildren have never known war, thankfully. And I pray that they will never see a conflict, because it certainly won't be anything like the 2 previous world wars, it will be far worse. We must all work towards peace, by remembering what went before.

  10. So much blood spilled; so much pain and misery. From what combat soldiers have told me there's no way to describe the horror of the reality. Many say the worst was the noise; it was deafening and disconcerting and fearsome. And now, after all these years and all these deaths, we have to realize the truth that there are no "winners" in a war. That's what so many of our pretend "heros" like dTrumpf and our Congressional misfits never realize. This place is a wonderful museum/memorial. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Thank goodness for researchers, right?

  12. So many men stood up and fought for their country. Such bravery to stand on the battlefield and fight. Lots of stories, lots of sorrow. War is no good for anyone.
    A wonderful series William, thank you for sharing.

  13. I think Ottawa must have more exhibits than any other city, including New York. This one is a reminder to us all of how war should be avoided.

  14. @Grace: there were a good number of women, on both sides, who were in harm's way during both World Wars as nurses and in other capacities, including deaths.

    @Red: that's true.

    @Shammickite: there's a quote in the museum- if the Third World War is to be fought with nukes, the Fourth will be fought with sticks and stones.

    @Lowell: the noise is something commented on in terms of the effect of combat.

    @Revrunner: yes, that must have taken a lot of digging. The Germans did have a reputation for keeping everything on paper, which in this case was a good thing. If you look at these, they look like something the Canadian government would have had placed, so had you come across them in those decades, you wouldn't have thought twice about them.

    @Bill: you're welcome.

    @Norma: we've got a lot, but I think we'd be outnumbered by the Smithsonian museums or the London museums or the Paris galleries.

  15. I've said it before but it bears repeating. You have some wonderful museums up there.

  16. i love the wild angled hallway ... so neat!! very creative museum, indeed!! ( ;

  17. War is such as sad thing! The older I get, the more I realize that humans are not very rational.

  18. Interesting but so many have sacrificed their lives in these wars.

  19. Must have been hell there in Belgium and France.
    I'm glad we could have some wonderful holidays those regions in the past thanks to these men.

  20. Very interesting series William

    All the best Jan

  21. @Catalyst: we do!

    @Beth: it is a well designed museum.

    @Linda: true.

    @Nancy: indeed.

    @Jan: it was hell.

    @Jan: thank you.