The Victoria Crosses awarded to three men who lived on the same street in Winnipeg before the outbreak of the First World War have been brought together in a permanent display at the Canadian War Museum.
On Nov. 5, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore opened a Canadian War Museum exhibit featuring the Victoria Crosses earned by Company Sergeant Major Frederick William Hall, Lieutenant Robert Shankland and Corporal Lionel Clarke.
“This is a remarkable story of three individuals who all lived on the same block, on the same street, in the same city,” Moore told reporters inside the museum’s Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour.
The exhibit was made possible with the recent acquisition of Hall’s medals.
Hall received the VC for his actions during the Second Battle of Ypres, when the Germans first used gas in an attack against the Allies. On April 23, 1915, Hall’s company was ordered to leave its trench for another, exposing the men to enemy fire as they crossed a raised bank. Finding that two of his men were missing, Hall went back in the darkness and found both men wounded and brought them to safety.
The next morning he heard the cries of another wounded man and organized a rescue party with two volunteers. Both volunteers were wounded in the attempt and were dragged back to safety by Hall. He then decided to go alone, but both he and the wounded man were killed by enemy fire.
“Leo” Clarke served in a bombing platoon, trained in the use of hand grenades. On Sept. 9, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, Clarke and his platoon were ordered to clear a section of enemy trench, then build an earth and sandbag barrier to defend themselves against a counterattack. In the fierce fighting, all of Clarke’s men were killed or wounded. About 20 German soldiers led by two officers began a counterattack. Clarke built his own barrier. In the fight that followed, Clarke was bayoneted in the leg but managed to kill or capture all of his attackers. Though he survived, Clarke was killed in action about two months later.
Robert Shankland received his VC for actions during the Battle at Passchendaele in Belgium. On Oct. 26, 1917, he led his platoon as his company captured Bellevue Spur. However, in the heavy fighting the troops around his platoon withdrew, leaving his men exposed to an enemy counterattack. Pinned down for more than four hours, Shankland recognized the need for reinforcements and made a treacherous journey back to the battalion headquarters where he provided a detailed report and planned a reinforced attack. He then returned to his men where they were able to hold off the enemy with reinforcements. Shankland is the only one of the three to survive the war.
When it became known that all three had lived along the 700 block on Pine Street, the City of Winnipeg changed the name of the street to Valour Road in 1925. A memorial explaining the significance marks the street today.
Also attending the ceremony were Eric Clarke of Chelsea, Que., a great-nephew of Leo Clarke and Douglas Cargo of Ottawa, a great-nephew of Hall.
“My mother’s maiden name was Hall,” said Cargo. “She had the Victoria Cross hanging on a wall along with a newspaper clipping. Someone finally convinced her that it was very valuable, so she put it in a vault and had a replica made for the wall.”
The medals of the three men are mounted and hung beside each other in an exhibit explaining the Valour Road connection. The museum had acquired the medals of Shankland in 2009 and those of Clarke in 2010. “These medals belong together and so they shall remain in perpetuity, held in the name of all Canadians,” said Mark O’Neill, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation which operates the Canadian War Museum.
O’Neill said the exhibit would be loaned to the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg in 2014 for a special exhibit commemorating the achievements of the Winnipeg Rifles and Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders during the First World War.
Almost 100 Canadians have received the Victoria Cross. The war museum has 33 VCs in its collection, one from the 19th century, 28 from the First World War and four from the Second World War.