Along a corridor of Legion House in Kanata, Ont., is a series of 98 portraits leading to the offices of Legion Magazine.These are of the men considered to be Canadian who have received the Commonwealth’s highest award, the Victoria Cross. (Some were born in Canada but served in British forces and others were born elsewhere but served in the Canadian forces.) The VC is unique in that it is available to all ranks and it is given solely for “valour in the face of the enemy.” We use the phrase “nearly 100” when talking about the Canadians who earned the Victoria Cross because it is difficult to determine exactly who should be considered a Canadian VC recipient. For one thing, the Canadian Citizenship Act did not come into effect until 1947, nearly two years after the last person considered to be a Canadian performed the action that resulted in the honour being awarded.
For this issue of Canada’s Ultimate Story, we are including those individuals recognized by Legion Magazine in an 18-part series of articles by historian Arthur Bishop, the son of VC recipient William (Billy) Bishop, which appeared between 2004 and 2006. The series featured portraits of each recipient by artist Sharif Tarabay of Montreal. These are the portraits that now line the corridor to the magazine’s offices.
In response to the astounding heroism shown in the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War, Queen Victoria established the Victoria Cross, the first medal for all ranks to be awarded for acts of valour “in the face of the enemy.”
The Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 thrust two Canadians serving in British forces into situations where they showed exceptional bravery. Other Canadians distinguished themselves in Sudan, the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Second South African War.
When the Great War started Canadians enlisted with much enthusiasm and soon found themselves on the battlefield of a terrible conflict which saw the use of gas, tanks and the constant rattle of machine guns. Canadians would be awarded 72 VCs before it was over.
After the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, Canadians had earned a reputation as the preferred stormtroopers of the British forces. During the last 100 days of fierce fighting, Canadians earned an astounding 23 Victoria Crosses.
The First World War introduced aviation to modern warfare. This was the era of aces when pilots attacked other aircraft for the first time and three Canadians earned the VC. By the Second World War, Canada would earn three more crosses.
A Victoria Cross was much more difficult for members of the navy to earn. Still, one Canadian in the First World War and two in the Second showed such exceptional valour they could not be ignored.
The Second World War saw Canadians committing exceptional acts of bravery from the disastrous raid on Dieppe, France, through the heavy slogging up the boot of Italy and back to France for the closing of the Falaise Gap and the final entry into Germany.