The Canadian War Museum has secured the Victoria Cross awarded to John Francis Young in the First World War. The museum now has 33 of the 94 Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians between 1854 and 1945.
Young was one of the Magnificent Seven, men awarded Victoria Crosses for heroism in various Canadian engagements on Sept. 2, 1918, part of the era known as Canada’s Hundred Days. Canadian units broke through the long-held and stoutly defended German Hindenburg Line in northern France, at a cost of more than 11,400 casualties, including more than 5,000 dead. It was a major Allied breakthrough.
Young was a stretcher bearer with the 87th Battalion, Canadian Grenadier Guards at the battle of Dury Mill on the Drocourt-Quéant Line in France. Despite heavy fire and with no cover, he dressed the wounded, repeatedly running back for supplies through hails of bullets. When the firing abated a bit, he organized parties to retrieve the wounded from the battlefield and transport them to hospital. He is credited with saving many lives. The citation for his award can be read on the Veterans Affairs Canada website.
There has been much debate over selling of Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians to private collectors. These medals can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, then disappear into private collections outside of the country.
The Victoria Cross, awarded for gallantry in the presence of the enemy, was approved by Queen Victoria and introduced in 1856. It was available to all military personnel, regardless of rank or social class. In 1902 it began to be awarded posthumously, making it one of the few British decorations for personnel killed during their heroic actions.
No Canadian had been awarded the British Victoria Cross since 1945. And no Canadian has yet been awarded Canada’s Victoria Cross, unveiled in 2008.