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Aubrey Cosens and the Victoria Cross

Aubrey Cosens earned a Victoria Cross just a few months shy of his 24th birthday.
Legion Magazine
Aubrey Cosens was already a battle-hardened soldier when he earned the Victoria Cross three months shy of his 24th birthday.

He’d had a hard life. He was born in 1921 in remote Porquis Junction in northern Ontario, a town reachable only by train. His father was a railwayman. After his mother died when he was four years old, Aubrey was raised by a neighbour.

He left home in 1938, during the Great Depression. After an unsuccessful attempt to join the air force in 1939, he enlisted in the army in 1940, at 19. He’d attained the rank of corporal by D-Day and joined the Normandy campaign as a reinforcement in July, fighting with the Queen’s Own Rifles in the Battle of the Falaise Pocket in northern France and in the Netherlands in the Battle of the Scheldt.

“The word responsibility is a big one in the army. I have learned that.”

 

He was promoted to sergeant in February 1945.

“So it’s sergeant now and what a lot of work there is to do and do I ever have a lot of dirt flung at me from all angles. But I’ll beat it if it kills me,” he said in a letter to his girlfriend back home, quoted on a Queen’s Own Rifles Museum website.

“I was platoon commander for two weeks or more. That was a lot of responsibility to take and it makes you think am I doing this right…how many men will come back…if I get grey hairs you can guess the reason. The word responsibility is a big one in the army. I have learned that.”

On Feb. 25, 1st Battalion, Queen’s Own Rifles, was ordered to take Mooshof, a German stronghold vital to clearing the Rhineland. Cousen’s platoon attacked three farm buildings nearby.

He went room to room, dodging gunfire, taking prisoners, killing those who resisted.

“Sergeant Cosens’ platoon, with two tanks in support, were twice beaten back by fanatical enemy resistance and then fiercely counterattacked, during which time the platoon suffered heavy casualties and the platoon commander was killed,” Lt.-Col. Stephen Lett told a historical officer. Only five members of the platoon survived.

Cosens took command. He ordered the other survivors to provide cover fire while he climbed onto the remaining tank and led firing from there. He jumped down as the tank moved to ram one farmhouse, knocking a hole in the wall through which Cosens stormed. He went room to room, dodging gunfire, taking prisoners, killing those who resisted. Then he repeated the task in the other two farmhouses.

But when he emerged, he was targeted by a German sniper. Shot through the head, he died instantly.

He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

“The outstanding gallantry, initiative and determined leadership of a brave NCO, who himself killed at least twenty of the enemy and took an equal number of prisoners, resulted in the capture of a position which was vital to the success of future operations of the brigade,” reads the citation.

Cosens was buried in Bedburg Hau, Germany, but reinterred in September 1945 at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands.

Sgt. Aubrey Cosens VC Memorial Bridge in Latchford, Ont.
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