By Canadian War Museum Public Affairs –
The Canadian War Museum is honoured to present the medals of all six men who received the Victoria Cross for their actions during the Battle of Hill 70. The medal sets of Private Harry Brown, Lieutenant Robert Hill Hanna, Sergeant Frederick Hobson, Sergeant Filip Konowal, Acting Major Okill Massey Learmonth and Private Michael James O’Rourke are now on view in the Museum’s Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour.
“The capture of Hill 70 was one of the hardest-fought victories for Canada during the First World War. We are proud to commemorate that victory by giving these medals a special place at the War Museum,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of History. “Together, these medals tell a story of extraordinary collective achievement, through six Canadians of different ranks and backgrounds who showed great courage and leadership when it counted most.”
The Victoria Cross (V.C.), the British Commonwealth’s (formerly the British Empire’s) highest military honour for bravery in battle, was created by Queen Victoria in 1856. During the First World War, 73 Canadians were awarded V.C.’s. Six went to men who demonstrated uncommon valour at the Battle of Hill 70, a significant Canadian victory.
Fought in northern France between August 15 and 25, 1917, the battle marked the first major action by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander — in this case, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie. By capturing the high ground of Hill 70, overlooking the German-occupied town of Lens, the Canadians forced dug-in defenders to leave their prepared trenches. The defenders were subsequently cut down in the open, suffering horrendous losses. But victory came at a high cost: more than 9,000 Canadians were killed, missing in action or wounded.
The Canadian War Museum holds four complete V.C. medal sets from the Battle of Hill 70. Last November, the Museum added Hanna’s V.C. to its Tilston Memorial Collection of Canadian Military Medals, where it joined the medal sets awarded to Brown, Hobson and Konowal. Learmonth’s medal set is on loan from the Governor General’s Foot Guards Regimental Museum, in Ottawa. O’Rourke’s medal set (replacement), on loan from the British Columbia Regiment (DCO) Museum Society, includes a replica of the V.C. — the original has been missing since the 1920s. The Hanna V.C. was acquired with the generous support of Cyril Woods through the Hill 70 Memorial Project, and with the assistance of the Museum’s National Collection Fund.
The Canadian War Museum collection currently holds 39 of the 99 Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians, of which 33 are from the First World War.
Photo courtesy of the CWM
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