Sergeant Robert Spall, VC

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that they performed valiant actions for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today we commemorate Sergeant Robert Spall, whose valiant actions and self-sacrifice on August 12 and 13, 1918 earned him the Victoria Cross.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier.

Sergeant Robert Spall, VC, undated. Source: Wikimedia

Born in Ealing, Essex, England on March 5, 1890, Spall immigrated to Canada with his parents and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was a customs broker before the war and was a member of the Active Militia. On July 28, 1915, Spall enlisted in Winnipeg, joining the 90th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He arrived in France with the Winnipeg Rifles on February 13, 1916 at age 26. Later, the 90th Battalion would be absorbed by the 11th Reserve Battalion to provide reinforcements to the Canadian Corps. Eventually, Spall ended up in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).

On August 12, 1918, German shells rained down on the PPCLI, the 116th Canadian Battalion, and the 42nd Canadian Battalion, keeping them in their respective trenches. Their objective was handed down at noon; in conjunction with the 42nd Battalion, PPCLI was to push the Germans out of Parvillers from the south. The plan was to move up to posts south of Parvillers held by the 9th Canadian Infantry and use them as jumping off points, while simultaneously bombing the trenches of the old German front line system and the trenches leading into Parvillers.

However, when the Company arrived at their assigned positions, it was discovered that the 9th Infantry did not control those points, and were still in the hands of the Germans. Despite the setback, the attack was to be carried out. At 8:00 p.m., the Canadians were met with heavy resistance, with little progress being made. Casualties were heavy on the German side as the Company pushed forward, with a bombing section moving down the German trench.

 black-and-white copy of a textual document with torn hole-punches on the left.

War diary from the PPCLI describing the attack when Spall fired at incoming German soldiers, August 1918, page 18, (MIKAN 2005881)

At 6:00 a.m. on August 13, 1918, the Germans counter-attacked heavily from Parvillers and Damery, coming out of the woods in a tight formation and attacking across the open. This sudden and vigorous attack forced the Company to retreat and head for the old German front line. In the mayhem, two platoons were cut off from the Company.

It is likely that Spall participated in this attack, and was instrumental in releasing his platoon from their locked position. Isolated with his platoon from the rest of the Company, Spall mounted the parapet armed with a Lewis automatic machine gun and fired directly at the oncoming German soldiers. He returned to the trench to motion to his platoon to move into a nearby sap 75 yards away from the enemy. He climbed back atop the parapet once more and continued his assault. It was at this time he was shot and killed. His insurmountable bravery and self-sacrifice allowed his men to rejoin the others, and his resourcefulness with the Lewis gun resulted in heavy German casualties.

A beige document with lines separating boxes, a red check mark, and a large purple stamp reading “Vimy Memorial.”

Sergeant Robert Spall’s Commonwealth War Graves Register, Vol. 31830_B034454, Page 845, August 22, 1918.

His citation read:

…during an enemy counter-attack, his platoon was isolated. Thereupon Sjt. Spall took a Lewis gun and standing on the parapet fired upon the advancing enemy, inflicting very severe casualties. He then came down the trench directing the men into a sap seventy-five yards from the enemy. Picking up another Lewis gun, this gallant N.C.O. again climbed the parapet, and by his fire held up the enemy. It was while holding up the enemy at this point that he was killed.

Sjt. Spall deliberately gave his life in order to extricate his platoon from a most difficult situation, and it was owing to his bravery that the platoon was saved.

London Gazette, Supplement 30975, October 25, 1918

Spall’s body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. His name can also be found on the cenotaph in Barrie Military Heritage Park.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Sergeant Robert Spall.

Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, and were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen and his bravery during the Battle of Amiens in France on August 12, 1918.

A black-and-white portrait photograph of a soldier.

Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen, undated. Source: Wikimedia

Born on August 9, 1892 to an affluent and aristocratic family in Rungsted, Denmark, Thomas Fasti Dinesen was a civil engineer when he tried on multiple occasions to enlist with armies from various countries. He was unsuccessful in joining the French Army, the British Army, and the American Army. On June 26, 1917, he successfully enlisted with the 2nd Reinforcing Company of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Dinesen served in the 20th Reserve Battalion before his transfer to the 42nd Battalion Royal Highlanders, known as the Black Watch of Canada.

On the night of August 11 to early August 12, 1918, the 42nd Battalion was sent in as relief to the old British front line, Parvillers sector, France. The Allied advance had been held up at this point due to impenetrable barbed wire separating the old British and German front lines. The objective was to take Parvillers by a bombing attack and capture the well-defended German trench. Around 10 o’clock on the morning of August 12, men were sent over to the jumping-off point along the northern side of the Rouvroy-Fouquescourt road in pairs at varying intervals to go unnoticed by the enemy. Only after the attack was well underway did the Germans try to hinder the approaching Canadians with a barrage. By mid-afternoon, Canadian soldiers simultaneously entered the enemy trenches, and they were met with counter-attacks. The Canadians  inflicted heavy German casualties and captured several machine guns.

A black-and-white copy of a textual record with four paragraphs and a handwritten “2” at the top of the page.

War diary appendix from the 42nd Canadian Infantry Battalion detailing the offensive on August 11–12, 1918, p. 26 (e001110175).

It was during this Allied offensive known as the Battle of Amiens that Dinesen earned his Victoria Cross as a private. On the last day of the battle, he rushed forward and single-handedly through heavy German counter-attacks and put hostile machine guns out of action. Engaging in hand-to-hand combat with his bayonet and bombs, Dinesen killed 12 enemy soldiers. His vigorous efforts over 10 hours resulted in the successful capture of more than 1.5 kilometres of fiercely defended German trenches at Parvillers.

In recognition for his gallantry, the French government awarded Dinesen the Croix de Guerre. Later he was commissioned as an officer in November 1918, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant.

A black-and-white photograph of six soldiers wearing helmets sitting in a large hole in the mud. Some are eating, while others are holding guns and facing away from the camera.

Canadians resting in a shell hole made by their own artillery, August 1918 (a002859).

He died in Leerbaek, Denmark on March 10, 1979. His Victoria Cross is on display in the Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum.

After the war, Dinesen wrote and published a number of books in Danish, including a memoir about his experience trying to enlist, as well as the events that earned him the Victoria Cross titled, No Man’s Land: En Dansker Med Canadierne Ved Vestfronten. In 1930, it was translated into English under the title Merry Hell!: A Dane with the Canadians. A copy of the English translation can be consulted on-site at Library and Archives Canada.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen.

Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

James Edward Tait, VC

By John Morden

Today on the blog series commemorating Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember Lieutenant James Edward Tait, who was awarded the Victoria Cross one hundred years ago, in August 1918, for his actions on the battlefield in France.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer wearing a Sam Brown belt, with his hands behind is back.

Lieutenant James Edward Tait, VC, undated (a006775)

Born on May 27, 1888, in Dumfries Scotland, James Edward Tait later immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Prior to the war, he was a civil engineer who was active in the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers as militia. He also had prior military service, having served five years in the Imperial Yeomanry, four years in the Regimental Scouts and one year in a unnamed squadron. Tait enlisted in the 100th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 22, 1916. He transferred to the 78th Battalion in the winter of 1917. He was wounded twice in 1917, on April 1 and September 16, and then again on April 21, 1918. On August 16, 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross.

A black-and-white photo showing a group of soldiers surrounding a recently captured enemy combatant.

German prisoner captured by the 78th Battalion during a night raid, May 1918 (a002628)

A handwritten description of the weather and events of the day.

War diary of the 78th Canadian Infantry Battalion for August 18, 1917, showing that James Edward Tait captured a German soldier. Tait is also mentioned in the war diary of September 17 (MIKAN 1883274)

Tait earned the Victoria Cross for his bravery on August 11, 1918. By this stage of the war, the Allies had begun the Hundred Days Offensive, their final push on the Western Front. On the first day of the Battle of Amiens, August 8, British and Canadian forces made massive gains in what German commanders later coined the “black day” of the German army. Over the next several days, German resistance stiffened. Tait’s unit came upon reorganized and strengthened German positions in France’s Beaucourt Wood. Here, the 78th was hampered by German machine gun fire. Tait continued to lead his men forward despite the shower of bullets. One German machine gun was still blunting the Canadian advance, so Tait charged the position himself, killed the German operating the position, and rallied his men. His actions are described in the London Gazette in September 1918:

“For most conspicuous bravery and initiative in attack. The advance having been checked by intense machine-gun fire, Lt. Tait rallied his company and led it forward with consummate skill and dash under a hail of bullets. A concealed machine-gun, however, continued to cause many casualties. Taking a rifle and bayonet, Lt. Tait dashed forward alone and killed the enemy gunner. Inspired by his example his men rushed the position, capturing twelve machine-guns and twenty prisoners. His valorous action cleared the way for his battalion to advance.”

Later that day, however, Tait was mortally wounded by a German shell. Nevertheless, he continued to give orders and rally his men until he died. Tait is buried in the Fouquescourt British Cemetery near the Somme, France. Today, Tait’s Victoria Cross is at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

Library and Archives of Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant James Edward Tait.

John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

The road to peace: Canada’s Hundred Days

By Emily Monks-Leeson

After years of static trench warfare, the Allies’ Hundred Days Offensive, which took place over the final 100 days of the First World War, succeeded in breaking the trench line and returning the belligerents to warfare on open ground. A rapid series of Allied victories ultimately pushed the Germans out of France and behind the Hindenburg Line, leading to the Armistice of November 11, 1918.

Following the successful attack on Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps did not lose a significant offensive operation for the remainder of the First World War. Having earned their reputation as “shock troops”, they were put into the line in the most difficult battlefields. As British Prime Minister David Lloyd George later wrote in his memoirs, “Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.” True to form, during the period from August 8 to November 11, 1918, the four Canadian Divisions of roughly 100,000 men caused the defeat or retreat of 47 German divisions or one-quarter of Germany’s fighting forces on the Western Front. Canadians fought at Amiens, Arras, the Hindenburg Line, Canal du Nord, Bourlon Wood, Cambrai, Denain and Valenciennes. These battles, which were instrumental in the defeat of the German Army, came to be known as “Canada’s Hundred Days”. In the final month of the war, Canadian troops engaged retreating German forces in a running series of battles over 70 kilometres, ending at Mons, Belgium, on November 10 to 11, 1918. The location of this final battle was highly symbolic for the Allies, as it was at Mons that the British had fought the Germans for the first time on August 23, 1914.

A black-and-white photograph showing a large group of German soldiers milling around between a village and a river or canal. The buildings in the background are mostly destroyed.

German prisoners captured by Canadians after the Battle of Amiens, August 1918 (a002858)

While Canadian successes were widely acknowledged, they came at a high cost: in the final hundred days, Canada suffered fully 20 percent of their total battle-sustained casualties of the war. Both the loss of lives and the victories of battle in Canada’s Hundred Days are commemorated on the le Quesnel Memorial, the Dury Memorial and the Bourlon Wood Memorial. The Canadian liberation of Mons is marked by a plaque at the City Hall of Mons.

A black-and-white photograph of stretcher-bearers and medical personnel caring for wounded soldiers while other soldiers are standing around in the background.

The wounded arrive at a Canadian field dressing station, Battle of Amiens, August 1918 (a002930)

Thirty Canadian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, during Canada’s Hundred Days. Library and Archives Canada’s Discover Blog series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients will remember each of them in the next 100 days, leading up to the armistice on November 11.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Joseph Thomas Kaeble, VC

By John Morden

This week in the blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we honour corporal Thomas Kaeble, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour on the battlefield on June 8 and 9, 1918. His actions took place 100 years ago today.

Joseph Thomas Kaeble was born on May 5, 1893, in Saint Moise, Quebec. Prior to the First World War, he served as a machinist. He enlisted in the 189th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 20, 1916, and on November 12, 1916, transferred to the 22nd French Canadian Battalion. The following year, in April, Kaeble was wounded and admitted to hospital. He was released from hospital shortly after, in May. While in hospital, he was promoted to the rank of corporal.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in full uniform.

Joseph Kaeble, undated. Source: Directorate of History and Heritage.

Kaeble earned the Victoria Cross during the 1918 Spring Offensive, Germany’s last gamble for victory on the Western Front. On the evening of June 8, 1918, while the 22nd Battalion was stationed near Neuville-Vitasse in France, the German army launched a raid against the Canadian lines. The attack was preluded by a blistering German bombardment, which left the Canadians stunned. Afterwards, a wave of 50 German soldiers came towards Kaeble’s position. With most of his comrades injured from the bombardment, Kaeble got out of the parapet, and, with a Lewis machine gun, held off the German onslaught on his own. Despite being hit several times, he held the attackers at bay until he was finally knocked back into his trench, severely wounded. While laying wounded, he was reported to have said to his brothers in arms: “Keep it up boys; do no let them get through! We must stop them!” (London Gazette, 30903, September 16, 1918)

In that battle, Kaeble suffered compound fractures in both legs, both arms, as well as a fractured hand and neck. In the end, the German raid was repulsed by the 22nd, to large extent because of Kaeble’s valiant stand.

A typed report describing the events of the “night of June 8th/9th 1918”.

in the 22nd Canadian Infantry Battalion War Diary on the actions that took place on June 8 and 9, 1918 (e000963629)

Corporal Kaeble would die of his grievous wounds on June 9, 1918. Along with the Victoria Cross, he was also awarded the Military Medal for his actions in France. He was the first French Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

A colour photograph of a gravestone with some plants beginning to grow. In the background are other graves.

Kaeble’s grave, Wanquetin, France. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Credit: Wernervc

Kaeble’s legacy holds strong in Canada. He is honoured, among others, with a bust in Ottawa’s Valiants Memorial. In November of 2012, a new patrol vessel, the CCGS Caporal Kaeble V.C., was presented to the Canadian Coast Guard.

Library and Archives of Canada holds the digitized service file of Corporal Joseph Kaeble.

John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

George Burdon McKean, VC

By John Morden

Today in Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember George Burdon McKean, who earned his Victoria Cross one hundred years ago today for his heroic actions on the battlefield.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling military officer.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, VC, June 1918 (MIKAN 3218939)

Born on July 4, 1888, in Willington, England, McKean immigrated to Canada in 1909 and settled in Edmonton, Alberta. Before enlisting on January 23, 1915, McKean was a schoolteacher. McKean joined the 51st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and arrived in England in April 1916. On June 8, 1916, McKean transferred to the 14th Battalion.

Sometime in the night of April 27–28, 1918, while the 14th Battalion was stationed near Gavrelle, France, McKean earned the Victoria Cross, Britain’s most prestigious military decoration. During a scouting mission, the party of men led by McKean ran head-on into a strongly defended German position. While the rest of the unit was pinned down by machine gun fire, McKean charged into the German trench with “conspicuous bravery and devotion.” Upon reaching the position, McKean killed two German soldiers, held his ground and called for more bombs. After resupplying, McKean took another position and single-handedly killed another two German soldiers and captured four more. McKean’s example rallied his men and the mission was successful. As reported in the London Gazette two months later:

“This officer’s splendid bravery and dash undoubtedly saved many lives, for had not this position been captured, the whole of the raiding party would have been exposed to dangerous enfilading fire during the withdrawal. His leadership at all times has been beyond praise.”

London Gazette, no. 30770, June 28, 1918

Later, McKean was awarded the Military Medal and Military Cross on March 28, 1917 and February 1, 1919, respectively. He would survive the war, though he would be wounded in the right leg on September 2, 1918 during the Hundred Days Offensive. He remained in England for the rest of the conflict. Following his release from hospital, McKean served as acting captain at the Khaki University of Canada in London, England, until his retirement on July 19, 1919.

He chose to remain in England after leaving the army and was killed in an industrial accident on November 28, 1926. McKean’s final resting place is Brighton Extra Mural Cemetery in Sussex, England.

Today his Victoria Cross is kept at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. McKean is honoured with a mountain named after him in the Victoria Cross Ranges in the Canadian Rockies.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in an officer’s uniform with gloves and a cane standing in front of stairs and a window.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, VC, undated (MIKAN 3218943)

A black-and-white photograph of a group of soldiers standing and sitting in front of trees in the winter.

Officers of the 14th Battalion, France, February 1918 (MIKAN, 3406029)

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant George Burdon McKean.

John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Today our First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients, remembers Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, who received the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, for his actions at the Battle of Moreuil Wood on this day 100 years ago.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier taken slightly in profile.

Lieutenant Gordon M. Flowerdew, Victoria Cross recipient (MIKAN 3521609)

Flowerdew was born in Billingford, England, on January 2, 1885. He immigrated to Saskatchewan in 1903 and later settled in British Columbia as a rancher. He enlisted in September 1914 in Lord Strathcona’s Horse, a cavalry brigade, and became a commissioned officer in 1916. By 1918, Flowerdew was Lieutenant (Acting Captain) in command of “C” Squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Though the cavalry brigades had not engaged in much direct fighting because of the static nature of trench warfare, this changed in the spring of 1918 with the return to rapid, open warfare. On March 30, 1918, the Strathconas were engaged in heavy fighting at Moreuil Wood, France, having been tasked with preventing the Germans from crossing the Avre River and advancing on Amiens.

As German soldiers entered Moreuil Wood, Acting Captain Flowerdew spotted two lines of German infantry positions supported by machine guns. He ordered a cavalry charge. His squadron passed over both German lines, attacking with their swords, and then turned and passed over the lines again, driving the defending German soldiers into retreat. According to Flowerdew’s Victoria Cross citation, by then the squadron had suffered 70 percent casualties, killed and wounded, and Acting Captain Flowerdew was badly wounded in both thighs. Nonetheless, Flowerdew continued to encourage his men, ordering them to dismount.

Through hand-to-hand fighting, the survivors managed to hold the previously occupied German positions until a unit led by Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey joined them. Harvey had received the VC in 1917 for his role in the attack on German positions at the Guyencourt, France. Flowerdew and his men prevented the capture of Moreuil Wood and denied the advancing German army a strategically important position.

A handwritten description of the day’s actions in combat.

Lord Strathcona’s Horse war diary page with a description of Flowerdew’s actions of the day, Page 422 (MIKAN 2004721)

Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew died of his wounds on March 31, 1918. He is buried at Namps-au-Val British Cemetery in France. Library and Archives Canada holds Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew’s digitized service file.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

In today’s profile for Library and Archives Canada’s blog series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross Recipients, we remember Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod who was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry.

Born in Stonewall, Manitoba, in 1899, McLeod attempted to enroll in the 34th Fort Garry Horse in 1913, at the age of 14 despite being underage. After war was declared, he tried several times to enlist in the army in Winnipeg and again in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in Toronto, but was repeatedly rejected. Upon turning 18, he enrolled in the RFC and trained as a pilot in Long Branch, Ontario. He graduated with 50 hours of flying experience and left for service in France on August 20, 1917.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated officer posing for an official portrait. He holds his gloves in one hand and a baton in the other.

Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC, of No. 51 and 2 Squadrons RAF. (© Imperial War Museums, Q-67601)

Originally posted to No. 82 Squadron, McLeod was assigned to home defence duties flying nighttime runs in a B.E.12 after his commander found out he was only 18 years old. His first operational flight took place in December 1917 with No. 2 Squadron over Hesdigneul, France. By January 1918, McLeod and his gunner had claimed one Fokker Dr.I and an observation balloon destroyed, an act for which McLeod was mentioned in despatches.

On March 27, 1918, Second-Lieutenant McLeod and his observer Lieutenant Arthur Hammond were in an Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 over Albert, France. They destroyed a German triplane and were immediately attacked by a formation of eight more. McLeod and Hammond shot down three German aircraft before the petrol tank of their aircraft was hit and burst into flames. McLeod tried to keep the flames away from his observer by side slipping steeply as the plane went down, all the while continuing to fire on the enemy planes. When the plane crashed in “no man’s land,” an injured McLeod dragged Hammond from the burning plane and carried him to safety under heavy fire. Both men were gravely injured but survived. Lieutenant Hammond, wounded six times, ultimately lost his leg and was awarded a bar for his Military Cross.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling young man lying in bed.

Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC, 1918 (MIKAN 3219066)

Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod received the Victoria Cross for his actions that day. After a period in hospital, he was sent back to Canada for further recovery. He died on November 6, 1918, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, from Spanish Influenza. McLeod Street in Stonewall, Manitoba, is named in his honour.

Library and Archives Canada does not hold the service record for Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC. Men wishing to enlist in the air service joined the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Air Force (RAF) or the Royal Naval Air Service. Personnel files for those British units are in the custody of the National Archives in England.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson
This week, Library and Archives Canada’s Discover Blog honours Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan, Canadian Victoria Cross recipient for his actions during the First World War Battle of Cambrai, which took place one hundred years ago today.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated officer wearing a cap and all the accoutrements of an officer.

Lieutenant Harcus Strachan, VC, undated (MIKAN 3221434)

Born in Borrowstounness, Scotland, in 1887, Strachan immigrated to Canada in 1908. He enlisted in The Fort Garry Horse regiment, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1915. He was a commissioned lieutenant and, on November 20, 1917, took command of a mounted squadron of The Fort Garry Horse at Masnières, France. When the squadron leader was killed, Lieutenant Strachan led the squad through the German line of machine gun posts and charged the German battery, killing seven of the gunners in hand-to-hand fighting. He then cut telephone communications three kilometers behind the German lines, rallied his surviving men, and fought his way back through to his own lines with all unwounded men and fifteen German prisoners. His citation in the London Gazette asserts that this operation “was only rendered possible by the outstanding gallantry and fearless leading of this officer” (London Gazette, no. 30433, December 18, 1917).

A black-and-white photograph of a line of mounted soldiers riding through a village.

Lieutenant Strachan, VC, and a squadron of The Fort Garry Horse passing through a village on the Cambrai front, December 1917 (MIKAN 3405685)

A typewritten report of the events of the day.

The Fort Garry Horse war diary, dated November 20, 1917, Page 2 of Lieutenant Strachan’s report (MIKAN 2004724)

Lieutenant-Colonel Strachan was promoted to captain and received his Victoria Cross from King George V on January 6, 1918. It became a tradition for the “Garrys” to hold a parade every year on the anniversary of Strachan’s Victoria Cross. Strachan survived the war and later commanded the 1st Battalion of the Edmonton Fusiliers during the Second World War. He died in Vancouver on May 1, 1982. Strachan was recently honoured with an historical plaque on the shores of Harcus Strachan Lake, 250 kilometers east of Thompson, Manitoba.

Library and Archives Canada has the fully digitized service file for Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan in the Personnel Records of the First World War database.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson, Victoria Cross recipients

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Today the Discover Blog remembers Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson, awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for gallantry one hundred years ago today during the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the First World War’s deadliest and most decisive battles.

A black-and-white photograph of two soldiers standing in front of an elaborate wrought iron gate.

Sergeant Colin Barron, VC (right) and Private Cecil John Kinross, VC, undated (MIKAN 3405057)

Corporal Barron was born in Boyndie, Banffshire, Scotland, in 1893. He immigrated to Canada in 1910 and enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Toronto in 1914. Barron was serving with the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion on November 6, 1917, at the Battle of Passchendaele. His unit’s objective was to capture a German pillbox at Goudberg Spur that was blocking the Canadian line of advance. Barron, with a Lewis machine gun, moved around the flank of the German position before opening fire and rushing the machine gun emplacements, killing four of the crew and capturing the remainder before turning the guns on the enemy to the rear. “The remarkable dash and determination displayed by this N.C.O. in rushing the guns produced far-reaching results, and enabled the advance to be continued” (London Gazette, no. 30471, January 11, 1918).

Colin Barron achieved the rank of sergeant-major. He survived the war and served during the Second World War with the Royal Regiment of Canada. He died in 1958 and is buried in the veterans’ section of Prospect Cemetery in Toronto.

A typewritten description of the events of the day.

Appendix C – Observations from the November War Diary of the 3rd Battalion (MIKAN 1883209)

On that same day, Private James Peter Robertson was taking part in the final assault on Passchendaele Ridge with the 27th Infantry Battalion, CEF. Robertson, who was born in Albion Mines (now Stellarton), Pictou County, Nova Scotia, enlisted with the 27th (Winnipeg) Battalion in 1915. When his platoon was held up by barbed wire and machine gun fire, Robertson rushed the German gun. After a hand-to-hand struggle with the crew, he killed four gunners and sent the rest into retreat. Robertson’s citation in the London Gazette tells that, “carrying the captured machine gun, he led his platoon to the final objective. He then selected an excellent position and got the gun into action, firing on the retreating enemy.” Robertson used the machine gun to suppress sniper fire on his unit and, when two Canadian snipers were themselves badly wounded, he ventured out and managed to carry one man back under heavy fire. Tragically, he was killed by a shell as he returned with the second man. Private Robertson is buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium.

A black-and-white photograph of a young man in uniform.

Private James Peter Robertson, VC (MIKAN 3645665)

Library and Archives Canada holds the complete service files for Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.