I will be away from blog doing research till Tuesday 3 September. Hope to see you back then, Cheers...Bart
Britain's initial plans to honor WW1 Victoria Cross recipients had many up in arms... and rightly so!
Next year marks the 100th year since the start of WW1, the War to End all Wars, so they said. Eight million would be dead before the end of the war. Almost a million from the British Empire. Earlier this month the British Government released news to the press that of the 4.5 Million Britons that served, just over 450 of about 480 VC's awarded in the war came home to Britons. And the releases said it was going to do something to commemorate SOME of these heroes.
It's plan was to hold a national contest to design some form of a brick for each of the Victoria Cross men who were born in either England or Ireland. Once the design was picked, the bricks would be commissioned and sent off to local councils to install where they sought it most appropriate. It hoped that each would seek pubic input.
But because of a gaping loophole many as deserving, would not be recognized. Those in the British Regiments who were born in Britain and Ireland would get the honor. But nothing was originally apparently mentioned about plenty of other heroes who fought wearing the British uniform, but were born elsewhere.
The two Billy's from Canada are a great example. I of course refer to Billy Barker and Billy Bishop. Between the two, one was the highest decorated in uniform from Canada in the war, and the 2nd was the highest air ace in the country. Between the Billy boys over 100 enemy planes were shot down. Then of course there was the fellow from Victoria BC by the name of John Sinton who ended by war's end being a Lt General, and of course a VC holder. Philip Bent from Halifax was a Colonel and VC holder. There are at least 6 if not more VC men who fought in British Regiments or their air corps, and who were not born in Britain. And as noted, according to apparent initial plans, would not be among those the country is choosing to honour. Those selected will be honoured starting next year and spread over several years to 2018.
But many sharp eyes have already started to hold government accountable for this omission and have been assured that they will be revisiting the issue and that all WW1 Victoria Cross recipients will be so honoured. It seems their minds had to be jogged about the slogan..."Lest we Forget!"
A quick look at Canada's 94 VC recipients, showed that six men would have been adversely affected by the original plan to only honour those in British units and born there or in Ireland.
These are Billy Barker from Dauphin Manitoba, Phillip Bent from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Billy Bishop from Owen Sound Ontario, Robert Cruikshank from Winnipeg Manitoba, Alan McLeod from Stonewall Manitoba and John Sinton from Victoria BC.
There are many recipients credited to Canada that were born in Ireland and Britain, but that being said, they should automatically be among those already chosen to be honoured.
These men fought with the Canadians but were born there and the criteria seems to currently evolve around place of birth not unit served in. But perhaps that also has been an omission!
I shall investigate further and bring an update when possible.
By the way, my internet searches have failed to find the story yet covered in ANY CANADIAN newspaper. So yet again this blog may be the first to bring you this story.
In the mean time it might be appropriate at this time to mention another interesting fact, one not widely known I suspect.
Of the 94 Canadians recipients, all of course were not Canadian born. In fact at least 31 fell into this category. (That's one in three.) It may be even higher as some places of birth are unknown. You have read past blogs hopefully on 4 Americans that wore the Canadian uniform and earned the Victoria Cross. Nine of the others credited to Canada were born in England, eight in Scotland and 7 in Ireland and one each from India, Denmark and Ukrainia.
Over 400 Medals of Honor were awarded during the many decades of unrest between the natives peoples and the whites of North America,
Ninety one of these, if not more, came to the members of the 8th US Cavalry. A handful of these came to Canadians. And one source says that the 8th got its beginnings back in California early in the Civil War, and was started by a fellow name McMahon who would later reach the ranks of a general. And he too came from Canada. (see a past blog in this space)
After the Civil War, between the year of 1866 and 1870 the natives and the white man...read Cavalry... did battle no less than 137 times in Arizonza alone. And from these almost 650 natives would perish, as did about 30 cavalry men.
Regardless of the side you might wish to have compassion for, you might give some thought to what a government annual report covering 1869 had to say. It was quoting in part the input of General Edward O.C Ord. I'll borrow a few lines on this subject from Robert M. Utley's book entitled..."Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866-1890." Therein the author makes the profound statement that...
A populace (was) tormented by murder, property loss, and constant insecurity savagely abused by its defenders for their poor showing. At the same time, the army viewed the citizens with growing resentment. Too many were vowed exterminationists, and their insistence on classing all Indians as hostile sometimes added unnecessarily to the hostile ranks. The intensity, if not the origins, of both the Yavapai and Walapai hostility could be traced to white treachery. Furthermore, as the Indians kept the mines from full development, the major business of Arizona came to be the Army. McDowell's successor, Gen. Edward O.C. Ord, put it bluntly in 1869: "Almost the only paying business the white inhabitants have in that territory is supplying the troops... If the payments and quartermasters of the Army were to stop payment in Arizona, a great majority of the white settlers would be compelled to quit it. Hostilities are therefore kept up with a view tp protecting inhabitants, most of whom are supported by the hostilities." Thus the populace dammed the army for lethargy, and ineffectiveness, and the army dammed the populace for provoking war, then fattening on the soldiers who had to fight it."
Should one chose to add about 140 years to the quote and have another look at it, he or she may come up with some most interesting observations.
But that aside, back in 1869 F troop of the 8th US Cavalry found themselves at Senaca Mountain in the state of Arizona. Pinpointing it more closely, they were at the area where the North South river known as the Agua Fria River flows through the mountain range. The troop was probably about 20 miles north west of modern day Phoenix.
Just to the north of Phoenix in the map on the left, in the background you can see the Seneca Mountain range. On the right, where the letter "A" is placed is about where the whites and the natives has a clash in August of 1869.
It is most difficult to locate any information about the numbers of combatants on either side. It is equally difficult in getting any of the details of the clash other than that they actually did battle on the 25 of August. As frustrating, any records found so far seem to suggest that at the end of the day's battle no less than 8 soldiers from the 8th US Cavalry were recommended for a Medal of Honor. Eight were awarded on 3 March 1870, and from five that I have had a look at no clues are yet available on the duties performed that day. The only thing I can find so far was that the medals were awarded for simply... "Gallanty in Action."
One of these came to Canadian Pte Herbert T Mahers. His home town as well as any information about his life before or after the war and where he was finally laid to rest are as much of a mystery as are the duties he and the others performed during the battle.
Over the next month I hope to be able to gain further information to share with you about Herbert and several other recipients that have been noted in past blogs.
In the mean time I can add that his deed was performed on 25 August 1869 and that was 144 years ago Sunday past.
If you missed last Friday's and yesterday's blog, you might want to scroll down and read these before today's. They bring you the first 2 parts of this 3 part series on Ukrainian born Filip Konowal. He immigrated to Canada, and joined up for service in WW1 and was sent off to France with his unit and earned a Victoria Cross for bravery at Hill 70 in 1917. Yesterday's blog ended with his being presented the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace and then his being reassigned to the Canadian Military Liaison Office at the Russian Embassy in London, the Canadian Forestry Corp at London and then to the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force for several months before again landing in Canada and taking his discharge in July of 1919 in Vancouver.
Konowal became quite active in the Great War Veterans Association. Started in 1917, this was the largest of quite a few veterans organizations that sprang up all across Canada in order to help the thousands of men and women who had been demobilized from war time services. It would soon amalgamate with many of these groups to form the Canadian Legion, renamed the Royal Canadian Legion with HRH Queen Elizabeth's permission in 1960. As an active member Cpl. Konowal actually led a Peace Parade through the streets of Ottawa on 19 July 1919. And at the front of the parade he marched proudly wearing his Victoria Cross.
Since the 1850's many millions of British Subjects have gone off to war. Of these less than 1,360 have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Wearing one on your chest has to be bring the most awesome of feelings, the knowing of the great deeds performed and recognized by your King or Queen, and the incredible responsibility the same award places on your shoulders. Having the VC pinned on his chest by the empire's King, coming through the war when millions did not, stepping back on your homefront soil, and leading the most important parade of your life down the streets of the nation's capital must have given Filip Konowal and incredible feeling of accomplishment and sense of pride. But in a split second that was all gone. In would happen the very day after the big parade in Ottawa.
Filip, pictured to the right, and a friend were off to dinner. His friend wanted to look at some cycles enroute and so they ended up in a sports shop checking out the bikes when one apparently somehow fell from the rack. Words were exchanged and things got so heated that his friend and the store owner ended up in a physical brawl that burst into the street.
Soon a crowd gathered. Push came to shove and all of a sudden a butcher knife was produced and Konowal... the very expert with bayonets.., got slashed in the hand and wrist. Instinct immediately took over and the man was knocked to the ground with the butcher knife stuck in his heart.
Most scattered but Filip stood his ground and would argue to the arriving police officers that it was clearly a case of self defence. In the heat of the moment he would also add the terrible statement that he had just returned from war and killed 52 of them over there and that this one made 53. Within very short order he was charged with murder.
Like so many trials, witness statements flipflopped back and
forth and things started getting much worse for Filip when key people said he had actually produced the knife himself. Some suggest his friend and/or some in the gang that appeared had shady dealings in the past, their characters were being drawn into the case and that what was being claimed was clearly not the way it happened. The case would take three years to finally get to trial. Filip's friends in the military and the Ukrainian community came forth with funding and very smart council came to assist Filip. But when all was said and done he was told the best move would be to bring forth past experiences were war memories were affecting him and that he ought to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. This would allow than to show that when the incident took place he immediately had flashbacks to bayonet battles he was in and may have thought he was just in yet another one of them.
Filip was found guilty by reason of insanity and order to be placed in an institution where he could get help. Over the years and with improved medical treatments it was discovered that his facial partial paralysis, suffered since the days of his wound in Europe, matters were worse than originally thought. he actually had a scull fracture and undue pressure being placed on a portion of his brain. Treatments and time resolved this and ultimately he was released to be a free man again.
It was around this time that he discovered his wife back in the Ukraine had perished and his daughter was caught up in a system of red tape that would make her discovery practically impossible. So Filip moved on and remarried in 1934 in Quebec. Within a short period he and millions of others found themselves in the midst of a depression and jobs could not be found anywhere. Eventually a military comrade found him low paying work as a janitor in an electrical authority building. But soon it also came to an end. Later another former military man, then the Sergeant at Arms at the Parliament Buildings tried his best to help Filip, but that meant yet another low paying job again as a janitor. He even had to make coffee for the other janitors. But it was a job and he gratefully took it.
Then a break came one day at work. On his smock he often wore the ribbon for his VC, and who should come around a corner one day by Mackenzie King, then Prime Minister of Canada.. and King certainly recognized that ribbon. When he heard Filip's story he immediately told him to drop the mop and come with him. He was placed in a job as a messenger and special custodian of room Number 16. The very office of the Prime Minister of Canada.
Twenty years later he was still there and at the time told a reporter the, in other words, that he had mopped up Europe and now was mopping of Parliament. (Presumably without bayonets)
Financial matters and poor health prevented Filip from attending the 1930 Victoria Cross reunion in London and the Vimy reunion of 1936 attended by HRH King Edwards V111 but in 1939 he did have an opportunity to meet HRH King George V1 in Ottawa during the tour, as pictured at left.
Cpl Filip Konowal was able to attend festivities in London in 1956. These were to celebrate the 100th year since her Royal Highness Queen Victoria presented the first ever investiture of the Victoria Cross, on the very grounds at Hyde Park where the men now gathered in 1956. In the much earlier parade Torontonian Alexander Dunn had his VC pinned to his chest by Queen Victoria for his bravery during the Charge of the Light Brigade, noted in this space many blogs ago.
At the 1956 ceremonies Sir Anthony Eden, British PM hosted over 300 VC recipients at a tea Party at Westminster Hall and a Thanksgiving dinner the following day at Westminster Abby. HRH Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip would attend the VC ceremonies at Hyde Park and of course you have hopefully seen the photo a few blogs ago in this space that shows 24 Canadian VC recipients who attended that service. Konowal is in the front row in that picture. Other Canadians also attended but missed the photo op for unknown reasons. There was also a garden party to attend at then Marborough House and a great dinner at the Canada Club as well.
On April 21 1959 Filip finally retired due to ill health. Within 7 weeks he would pass away at Hull Quebec. There are numerous monuments to Filip across the country today. A legion, a bust at the Parliament Buildings, plaques in several locations etc.
Filip's actions at Hill 70 took place dated 96 years ago last week.
On Friday you were introduced to the story of Filip Konowal. He was born a Ukrainian, raised there, conscripted into the army at age 21 for 5 years, then came to Canada to make a better way of life for his wife and daughter. Times were tough here and wages low in the lumbering business he entered in BC so he moved back to the Ontario area and then WW1 started. He joined up for overseas service with the 77th Bn., Canadian Expeditionary Force, would get training in Ontario, and then sent off to Halifax. There his regiment boarded the CPR troop carrier and sail off to England, got some more training, and then the unit was split up. He was sent to the 47th and shipped off to France.
Konowal by this time had been promoted to Lance Corporal. His first fighting with the enemy may have come when the unit joined with others tasked to take a high ground known as Hill 145 which was at the western end Vimy Ridge. There they had to attack a little cluster of woods known as the "Pimple."
Nature was in the Allied favor that day. It dumped a freak snow storm on the area and blinded the Germans and allowed the Allies to capture it in short order. The map to the left gives an idea of where Vimy is and shows the progression during the several year advance and pushing of the Germans back into their own country.
It would be at Hill 70 that Konowal would show what he was made of.
Hill 70 was not the original primary target. It was the town beyond called Lens. But Hill 70 was also heavily fortified by the Germans. Any capture of Lens by the Allies would always be troubled by the Germans on Hill 70 from where they could launch a lot of grief on the town from the high ground. Not only that, but because of the excellent views in all directions whomever controlled it had advance notice on what the enemy was doing because they could watch them at their game.
So the plans were changed to make Hill 70 the primary target. And if truth be known, the allies did not really want to advance and gain any territory there. The whole plan was simply a ruse to attempt to pull German resources away from the troubling battles going on at the Third Battle of Ypres, (Passchendaele) also seen in the above map. Capturing Hill 70 would require the Germans to get more men in the area quickly to try and recapture it. Thus they would hopefully turn to the massive manpower they had at Ypres. And any move of Germans out of that area would have helped the Allied cause there. Further, if the Hill was taken by the Allies, they could reverse the tide on the Germans then coming to the Hill. The enemy attackers would be at a disadvantage cause they were the ones now doing uphill battle.
Plans were put in place and after a massive artillery barrage was dropped on the Hill on August 15th 1917, the Allies took it from the Germans. But the enemy regrouped and launched numerous attacks to try and regain it. On the 21st. during these attacks Konowal's company was assigned to do some mop up work in the area to the south east base of the mountain at a suburb of Cite de Moulen. As the company moved forth they took many casualties and soon the Cpl realized that all of his officers were now either dead or wounded and command of the men fell to him. He managed to pull what was left of his group together and advanced through heavy smoke and reached some of the enemy trenches and jumped in.
But no sooner had he gotten into the trenches, somehow they got instantly flooded with waist deep very cold water, pinned down and with no escape. All of a sudden Cpl Konowal got fed up with the situation and without approval jumped out of the trench and raced forward with only his rifle and a few hand grenades. It had to be a miracle that he got through enemy fire and managed to get to one of the homes that was little more than a shelled ruins. Diving into a window and ending up in a pitch black basement he then found himself in a gunfight only a few feet away from several Germans. He managed to kill three outright, several more fled for their lives but he managed to shoot them and chase down another three and kill them with his bayonet. He then returned to gather up the machine gun, threw it over his shoulders and made it back to the water filled trench and no doubt some harsh words from his wounded officer.
The following day, while advancing on another target, he tore off again at yet another Machine Gun nest. He was again alone and without orders. This time an enemy patrol caught him and made him a POW, but he managed to get one of their weapons and turn it on them and wiped out the whole patrol. He then found the MG nest and killed many with his rifle, and the rest again by bayonet and then he smashed the MG and then retuned to his unit. (He was obviously an expert with hand to hand combat and the use of the bayonet, and, as noted in the earlier blog, actually taught it's use back when in the Russian army before his move to Canada.)
Later that day a new officer was assigned to his troops and while he stood in a trench and was getting briefed he was shot in the face by enemy sniper fire. The damage caused by that wound ended his duties at the front line.
The ten day battle to capture a Hill that they did not want, in order to divert enemy strength away from another battle, cost the Allies about 20,000 casualties, over 9,000 of these being killed. Of those killed over 5,600 were AFTER they captured the Hill and were trying to hold it.
Cpl Filip Konwal received medical treatment at two different locations in Europe and was finally sent back to London in late August. On 15 October 1917 he was at Buckingham Palace where HRH King George V pinned the Victoria Cross to his chest. Here is his citation from the London Gazette...
At the ceremony King George apparently told the Cpl that..." your exploit is one of the most daring and heroic in the history of my army. For this accept my thanks."
This is Filip Konowal and as you can see he is proudly wearing his Victoria Cross above his left pocket.
The picture on the right was taken outside Buckingham Palace in October 1917 and has him speaking to another soldier who also just received his VC. (unidentified)
In November of 1917 the Cpl. was assigned new duties as an assistant to the Canadian Military Liaison Officer at the Russian Embassy at London.
Within a month he was promoted to Sergeant and about 10 months later he reverted back to Cpl (for unknown reasons) and had been moved over to new duties with the Canadian Forestry Corp. at London. By November of 1918 his skills as an interpreter were put to good use with his assignment to the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force. In July of 1919 he was back in Canada and on the 4th took his release from the Canadian Military just 8 days short of having served 4 full years.
But Filip Konawal's retirement from the service did not lead to inaction. He would still have plenty of ventures yet to come.. . More than he needed. But I'll save that till tomorrow!
Heroism mistaken for desertion, gets Victoria Cross, later gets Murder charge, reduced to janitor status, then works in Prime Minister's Office
Filip's life was anything but normal. And that started at the very beginning. Some say he was born in 1888, others have it being 1887. But all seem to agree it was at Kudkiv in the Ukraine, then under the control of Russia. Filip would learn the ruggers of hard labour, probably at either the family farm or maybe in stone cutting. Like other young men, he would be conscripted into the army at age 21 and really took to the infantry training. He was so good at it that his ability with the bayonet saw him soon instructing on its effective uses. A talent that would come very handy in later life.
By 1913 Filip had become married and had a young daughter. Seeking a better living for them, he immigrated to Canada with the plan to send for them later when he got established in his new homeland. He dug his heals in working in the lumbering industry briefly in British Columbia but then went East to Ontario seeking higher paid jobs. Soon the War to end all Wars came along and like so many other Ukrainians, despite the way they were treated by their new country, signed up to go to war in mid June of 1915.
Filip, now Private Konowal, would get about 10 months basic training at Valcartier and elsewhere with his new unit... the 77th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Services. Many of these units were created for the war specifically and would later earn such a good reputation the Germans would refer to them a storm troopers.
On 19 June his unit boarded the SS Missanabie at Halifax and sailed for Liverpool, arriving ten days later.
This is an early post card of the CPR vessel. It was a cruise liner than had upwards of 500 cabins and capacity to carry well over 1,000 3rd class passengers. It travelled basically back and forth between Canada and Britain and turned into a troop carrier at some point. It eventually met it's fate on 9 September 1918 when sunk by a German U Boat, with loss of 45 lives.
Two of these were the women Jane Johnstone and Mary Elizabeth Oliphant, both were employed as stewardesses in the Merchant Marine Service at the time. Their names are two of the seven names on the plaque at Langford BC mentioned a few days ago when I brought you the names of the two women killed the day before Canada went to war. In that incident their vessel, the SS Athenia WAS NOT A TROOP CARRIER but was sunk by a cowardly German U Boat commander who fled from the scene after realizing the dreadful mistake he had made. To further his crime of abandoning those struggling in the water, he ordered his men to strict secrecy of the event and made no reference to it in his ship's logs. His superiors later covered it up by creating the fake story that the Brits destroyed the vessel themselves, as many Yanks were on board at the time and American would become so infuriated it would immediately enter the war. The hoax was finally revealed in evidence taken during the Nuremburg trials.
Pte Konowal's unit arrived at Liverpool on 29 June 1916 and moved into the temporary Canadian camp set up at Bramshott, about 70 miles s/w of London and just a dozen miles inland from the southern coast. While there Filip was promoted to Lance Corporal. His unit was needed to replenish loses in Europe and so it was split up and men were sent in several directions. He would go with a crew to the 47th Battalion, cap badge shown above. After probable additional training at Bramshott he was sent to Europe of 10 August 1916. Two months later he would find himself at Vimy Ridge and wearing 2 stripes now, that of a acting Corporal.
It would be here that Cpl Konowal would become famous... for numerous events, But I'll leave these and much more till Monday!
yet another computer issue will delay today's post till tomorrow, hopefully by about 9 a.m. sorry folks...
"When the country called for all persons, I could best serve my God, serving my country, and my opposed brothers."
It was 150 years ago that this direct quote appeared in the newspaper called the ...the Liberator. Later today the very author of the titled quote is being honoured. And so he should be!
You may have first heard about him in a much earlier blog on this site, on another day of remembrance ... Christmas Day. You can re-read that blog by clicking here...
Life for William began being born into slavery, at Norfolk West Virginia in February 1840. His father was also a slave of the same owner, who some sources claim had the surname Carney. In the mid 1850's William escaped through the underground railroad and found his father who travelled the same route and made it through to New Bedford Mass. much earlier. His father had found work and managed to save up some money to buy his own freedom and then William Junior's. There was even enough to help Jnr get a secret education. It being secret because it was illegal in those days for the black man to get any education.
In the earlier 1860's President Lincoln put out the call to help with the insurrection he faced by the Southern States. By that time some claim that William had already served with the navy. And to do so, William, according to other sources, had to get a surname. He apparently met up with a white man also named William. This fellow liked Jr and understanding his plight, lent the future hero his surname... that being Carney. With the new surname William H Carney apparently signed up at some point with the US Navy. But on 17 Feb., 1863 William enlisted with a local unit called the Morgans Guard.
Just 15 days later William and 45 other former African -American born slaves all from the Morgans Guard signed up to join the 54th Massachusetts. He was then 23 years of age. But according to the calendar he was really less than 5 years old. Talk about child labour. And youth in the military! A year later he would make it to 6 if you use the calendar and all his BIRTH days that showed up. You see he was born on February 29th!
I won't go into all the details of Carney's heroism back in 1863. Please click on the above link to get that story.
But I will note that after realizing the Sgt carrying the regiment's colours was shot and stumbling, Carney raced to his side and rescued the flag. Before the battle was out he would himself be wounded in both legs, the chest and even grazed in the head but managed to keep the colours from touching the ground. When push came to show he wrapped the colours up on the flag pole and was ultimately carried off the field and turned them in to his superiors at the 54th.
The very regiment depicted in the movie a decade ago called ... GLORY. A movie that made no notice of the fact that between 2 dozen and 39 of the coloured soldiers in the unit came from Canada.
Because of the nature of his injuries and the ongoing medical problems, Carney had to be released from the military as evidenced from an entry in the Descriptive Book, shown on the left.
As the much earlier blog noted, Carney's heroism, like so many other coloured men's heroism was very long in being acknowledged. The above entry shows that it was not until 1900... some 37 years later that his Medal of Honor was finally awarded.
Here are three photos of William H Carney. In the first he is wearing an unusual badge. I have yet to discover what it is. He left the service in 1864 so the photo may well be dated before then. He is still wearing it in the 2nd photo, obviously taken some time later and pre 1900. If after, he would probably have been wearing his Medal of Honor as seen in the third image.
As noted in the earlier blog, Carney is credited with earning the first ever Medal of Honor. This is of course by date of his action back in 1863. However the first medal ever AWARDED to a coloured man went to Robert Blake, a navy Seaman for actions of Christmas Day in 1863. He was awarded his medal just 4 months later, and thus was the first so AWARDED, but not the first so EARNED.
Tonight at the Banquet hall at Springfield Mass there will be opening ceremonies for the 159th anniversary of the Civil War. Part of the events will include a historical exhibit of William H Carney. A few days later, on 30 August the Stone Soul Festival with start for a few days and will be in honour of other local distinguished residents of the past and present.
If in the area, try to come out and support these folks.
There is still time to take action... Please support this blog by taking a few minutes to take action!
Today's column is about supporting the fairer sex. It took me a few years to realize that without women none of us would be here. (Men also apparently played a part as well.)
While some readers of these blogs over the past several months have had a look at the page on this site entitled... "About the Author", I suspect others have not. If you take a few minutes to read it you will soon see where I come from on this topic.. and why. So, after reading today's blog, you have two assignments. Read the bio and follow up on the petition you are about to learn about.
To begin, I have often made references to women in the military in past blogs. Here you have learned about women spys and soldiers and those impersonating men to serve. You hade read about Mary Walker and even about a Confederate Medal of Honor that went to a woman. If you have missed these here are a few links to help bring the point home that women need to be recognized as much as the male heroes we become aware of.
Having said the above, it was natural for me to take interest in an email I got a few weeks back asking that I lend support to an up and coming local author and seasoned historian who's work had culminated recently with two very successful books about women heroes. Her name is Myrna Forster and she operates the web site... www.heroines.ca
At her site... http://www.heroines.ca/news/latest.html you are encouraged to read about her concern, shared by many, that while the population of Canada is more than 50% female, that sex received so little in the way of acknowledgement of the role women have played in Canada's history dating back to day one... and before. Her current issue, a most valid one, is that women have not been depicted nearly enough on our Canadian dollar bills. Her site lays out the issue, and she asks, and I have complied, in signing a petition in the hopes that it will gather enough support for the decision makers at Ottawa to review the issue and take steps to resolve the past and current indifference to the issue.
Please consider signing the petition. Thanks.
And now I would like to share with you a story of two other women you have probably never heard of before. Their names were Margaret Hayworth and Hannah Russell and they were among the FIRST CANADIANS KILLED in WW11. But sadly few know of them and so little is known about their lives, one only lasting 10 years.
On 1 September Germany rolled their tanks across the Polish border under the false premise that the Polish had earlier crossed the border and attacked German facilities. England was livid as were people all around much of the world. They'd be even more livid if they heard the truth about the German tactic but I'll leave it at that. England had earlier promised the Poles that she would come to their defence and on the 3rd gave Germany an ultimatum. Pull out by 11 a.m. or Britain will declare a state of war with Germany. Germany was unimpressed and continued its aggression. At 11.15 a.m. Britain's PM Chamberlain went on the air waves to advise that a state of war from that minute existed between the two countries. On 10 September, seven days after Britain declared a state of war, so did Canada, her oldest colony.
All this sword rattling did not initially help the plight of the SS Athenia. (pictured here)
This unarmed civilian ocean liner made its living plying its trade back and forth between the Glasgow and Liverpool ports with those at Quebec and Montreal.
On 3 September she was enroute to Canada with some 1300 hundred passengers plus another 300 and more crew.
Her trip would be cut short by a German U Boat that had been trailing her for several hours. She was about 250 to sea when the U Boat decided he had had enough. The vessel had a darkened bottom so it must be hiding from the Germans... in his mind. It also was zig zaging on its route and not taking a direct sailing. It must have been avoiding the Germans...thus it must be the enemy... in his mind. He fired two torpedoes at the ship and the first was a direct hit. The second was a dud. After firing he dove lower as the dud might have made a circle back to its start point and taken out the sub.
Within minutes the Athenia started to take on water and the order given to abandon ship. By then the Sub commander discovered that through consultation with onboard manuals AFTER THE FACT...it became was obvious that he had just attacked an unarmed civilian cruise ship. Knowing this was a true crime he immediately sailed off and left it stranded with no efforts being taken to save the innocent civilians, many being women and children. In fact he was so cowardly he refused to even make any notation in the ship's log about the firing. Worse yet, he ordered his crew to secrecy.
All of which did nothing to help fix the disaster he caused.
When the distress call came out several vessels immediately responded. All except another German vessel in the area that was documented as ignoring the call for help.
The sub did not return to port for about a month, but in the mean time had legitimately taken out a few of Germany's enemies and therefore the authorities did not punish him and kept the incident quashed. It was later revealed at the Nuremburg trials that not only did this U Boat hit and run and abandon those crying out for rescue, but that the powers to be, conducted a campaign of denial and accusations placed at the Brits, who they said did it to themselves to get the Americans into the war sooner.
Many of the women and children on the vessel were said to be heading out of England for safety reasons. The school aged were being sent to America for schooling, but 10 year old Margaret Hayworth, from Hamilton Ontario was killed from a blow to the head. Her mother was rescued and among over 100 brought into Halifax days later by the American freighter "Flint."
Hannah Russell Baird was from Quebec, and en-route back home and working her passage whilst serving in the Canadian Merchant Navy. She would later be declared the first women in service in WW11 to perish at the hands of the enemy. And this was a day before Canada was even at war. Her vessel would be the first of the war lost to the enemy. Even though it was not even a military one at that.
Over a thousand people attended the funeral in Hamilton Ontario for the little girl Margaret. Among those attending was the then Premiere Michael Hepburn. At Langford, just outside of Victoria BC there is a grandstand that was erected a few years ago and therein is a monument to those women who lost their lives serving in the Merchant Marines. It is thought to be the only one in the world. And therein you can see that the first name on the memorial is that of the late Stewardess Hannah Russell Baird. (A future blog will bring more info on this monument and the incredible woman who played a role in its creation.)
Travelling farther east to Halifax and its beautiful Point Pleasant Park, here you will find the Halifax Memorial with a granite cross standing some 12 meters high and looking out to sea. This Commonwealth War Graves Memorial was unveiled to replace an earlier one in 1967, and was officially dedicated by the then federal Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Lt Governor of Nova Scotia.
It commemorates the gallant soldiers and sailors and merchant marines who lost their lives at sea and contains no less than 3,000 individual names placed throughout 23 panels. Above is panel 17 and the forth name therein is stewardess Hannah Baird.
Ninety eight passengers and about twenty crew were killed that day back in 1939, when the Athenia slipped under the water line about 14 hrs after being torpedoed.
Later in the war the same captain that commanded the U Boat gave the order to abandon ship when his U Boat was badly damaged by a barrage of depth charges. Many escaped. But not so for the Captain. He got off the boat and as he swam away he looked back and realized his ship was not sinking as fast as expected. And he abandoned her while leaving very important papers... AND an enigma Machine on board. He began to swim back but either drowned or committed suicide when he realized not only what he had done, but that the allies had boarded his vessel... And THEY CAPTURED THE ENIGMA MACHINE.
This cyphering tool was thought by the Germans to have sank with the ship, but it was in fact now in British hands and used throughout the rest of the war to keep tabs on what the enemy was doing. It was later said that its possession may have actually resulted in chopping about two years off the actual length of the war.
And the Germans were in for another surprise. On board the Athenia was a young man by the name of James A Goodson who was an American born youth but grew up in Toronto Ontario. Shortly after getting his feet back on Canadian soil he joined the Royal Canadian Airforce. When the Americans later came into the war he switched over to serve with them and went on to become an air ace having shot down 15 German planes. He would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross... just one down from the Medal Honor for his deeds.
So folks, please give some thought to the above two ladies, over 2800 Canadian nurses that served in WW1 (over 40 being killed in the service) and the 4500 nurses with another 45,000 who served in the CWAC's, the WRCNS, and the RCAF during WW11 when remembering to check out Myrna Forster's site and petition at www.heroines.ca