By Emily Monks-Leeson
Today our blog series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients marks the anniversary of the Battle of Hill 70, a decisive victory for the Canadian Corps and site of mourning for many thousands of Canadian and German families. Six Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for their actions during and immediately following Hill 70. Among them was Robert Hill Hanna, born in Kilkeel, Ireland, on August 6, 1887, and an immigrant to Canada in 1905.
Hanna enlisted with the 29th Battalion (British Columbia Regiment) and was a 30-year-old company sergeant-major on August 21, 1917. His company, which was fighting to capture a heavily protected German strongpoint near Hill 70 at Lens, France, had suffered heavy casualties, including every one of Hanna’s ranking officers. In the face of this, Hanna rallied a party of men and led them in a forward attack on the German strongpoint, rushing the barbed wire and killing the German soldiers manning a machine gun.
His citation in the London Gazette states:
This most courageous action, displaying courage and personal bravery of the highest order at this most critical moment of the attack, was responsible for the capture of a most important tactical point, and but for his daring action and determined handling of a desperate situation the attack would not have succeeded.
Hanna later achieved the rank of lieutenant. He survived the war and returned to Canada. Lieutenant Robert Hill Hanna died in Mount Lehman, British Columbia, on June 15, 1967.
Library and Archives Canada holds the Canadian Expeditionary Force service file for Lieutenant Robert Hill Hanna.
Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.