Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Victoria Cross

A long-departed British monarch still lends her birthday to a holiday that marks the unofficial start of summer in Canada, and her name to the highest military honour awarded for valour in the face of the enemy. Victoria Day weekend – a good time to remember those awarded the Victoria Cross in WW1. Here’s a look back at some VCs featured on Great War 100 Reads.

Canadians awarded the Victoria Cross, Ottawa

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Hugh McDonald McKenzie, VC DCM, Menin Gate, Ypres

Every soldier tells a story.

Hugh McDonald McKenzie was born to Jane and James McDonald McKenzie in Liverpool, England on 5 December 1885. He moved with his family to Inverness, Scotland (which he listed as his birthplace on his attestation papers) and immigrated to Montreal, Quebec in 1911, where he worked as a teamster. Marjory McGuigan followed him to Canada and they were married in 1912.

He attested in August 1914 with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and sailed for Europe in December. Over time he rose in rank from private to second lieutenant.

In March 1916, McKenzie was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal (as well as the Croix de Guerre) for conspicuous gallantry: Continue reading


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Billy Bishop VC and Thomas Holmes, VC, Owen Sound, ON

Two plaques near the Owen Sound cenotaph – in Queen’s Park, on 1st Ave W at the corner of 8th St W backing on the Sydenham River – honour local Victoria Cross winners from WW1. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Lt Jean Brillant, VC, MC, Villers Bretoneux Military Cemetery, Fouilloy, France

Jean Baptiste Arthur Brillant was born on 15 March 1890 at Assametquaghan, Quebec, the son of Joseph Brillant and Rose-de-Lima Raiche. He died of wounds on 10 August 1918 in France. His tombstone at Villiers Bretoneux Cemetery reads:

Lieutenant Jean Brillant, VC, MC, 22ieme En. Canadien français, 10 aout 1918, age 28 ans.

Fils de Joseph Brillant. Enrole volontairement à Rimouski, Province de Quebec. Tombe glorieusement sur le sol de ses aieux. Bon sang ne peut mentir.

Translation: Son of Joseph Brillant. Enlisted voluntarily at Rimouski, Province of Quebec. Fell gloriously on the soil of his ancestors. Good blood cannot lie. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Hill 70 Monument, Loos-en-Gohelle, France

Between 15 and 25 August 1917, the divisions of the Canadian corps captured and held Hill 70, a defensive position near Lens that had been held by the German Army since October 1914. While the April 1917 offensive at Vimy Ridge was the first time the Canadians fought together, Hill 70 was the first time they did so under Canadian command. Lt-Gen Arthur Currie has just assumed command. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph, Pakenham, ON

Spring tulips and apple blossoms frame the cenotaph in Pakenham, Ontario at this time of year. The Celtic cross design would have been symbolic to the many Irish settlers in the area. The Pakenham Horticultural Society maintains seasonal plantings here and around the village. The cenotaph is in the Community Horticultural Park on County Road 29.

This is the Victoria Day holiday in Canada. A good time to reflect on those awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in the face of the enemy.


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadians awarded the Victoria Cross, Ottawa

This plaque honours Canadians (including Newfoundlanders) awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War. It was unveiled by Princess Anne on 10 Nov 2014, on the wall of the British High Commission on Elgin Street in Ottawa.

According to a UK government press release:

Bronze plaques were commissioned to recognise 175 Victoria Cross winners in total from 11 countries. Canada has the highest number of overseas recipients with 70. Other countries for whom plaques have been commissioned are Australia (66 Victoria Cross winners), New Zealand (16), South Africa (14), India (6), USA (5), Pakistan (3), Nepal (2), Denmark (2), Belgium (1) and Ukraine (1).

In the UK, a commemorative paving stone will be laid to honour each person in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War – 469 in all. Ceremonies will take place in the birthplace or hometown of each recipient on the anniversary of their winning the VC. Paving stones for overseas-born recipients will be unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on 5 March 2015.

The Victoria Cross is the UK’s highest award for gallantry. It is given for most conspicuous bravery or a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. Medals are made from cannons captured from the Russians during the Crimean War.