The woman operating the booth and I started talking and she noticed the badge and then immediately flipped through one of the massive binders of work they have done and then stopped at the page she was looking for. Mind you she was reading it upside down but that did not stop the speed in which she found the article. And then she pointed her finger to an amazing story, which is the subject of todays blog.
Gilbert was a coloured man who joined the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles when the Great War broke out and ended up with the 103rd Battalion Expeditionary Forces at Vimy Ridge in 1917.
While others had tried to take the ridge in the past they failed. This was the first time that the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together. They would be required to charge across no man's land that was heavily defended by German troops and on the very grounds that many an Allied soldier had died in the several attempts to take the ridge that the Canadians were then expected to capture.
And they did.
Robert Gilbert was in the charge and soon found himself running through a German with his bayonet and coming across several others of the enemy with their hands up and surrendering and on the march towards the Allies friendly lines... he told them to keep going as he moved closer into the enemy lines.
As he got to the face of the tunnel first, he was waiting for the rest of his troops to show up. Then an officer appeared and he explained the situation. The officer said to guard it till he returned, and did so shortly with another officer. By then several of his fellow soldiers had also arrived.
One of the officers asked him what to do... and he said that they had to enter the tunnel. And then the officer said... WHO will go in there, and Gilbert said that he would. He exchanged his rifle for a pistol and got a bag of bombs (grenades) and went in alone.
After throwing several bombs ahead of him he finally got to the bottom and from around a corner he heard a yell to stop throwing them. With a deep German accent, a man yelled... Mercy Kamarad..." and with that a voice pleading that he stop throwing the bombs and that they would give up.
A German officer came out first then the men... 25 of them. Once they were all secured as POW's the officer went up to Gilbert and took of his chest an Iron Cross and gave it to Gilbert telling him how brave the officer thought he was.
About 1 1/2 years later Gilbert would be back in Victoria BC and stationed at Willows Camp. He'd still be a private and had received no awards whatsoever for the capture of 25 prisoners, an officer and the machine gun that was about to be mounted against the Canadians.
Four WHITE Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross for various acts of bravery, quit similar to Gilbert's, yet Gilbert got no medal of any sort for his bravery. Nor did he apparently even get a promotion.
In an 1918 article in the local paper, some of his friends had praised his bravery at Vimy and one noted that..."if it were not for his colour I believe he would have the Victoria Cross for his work on Vimy Ridge...".
He worked in the shipping and longshoreman trades in Vancouver after release from the military. He died in Vancouver in 1952 at age 56.
Robert Gilbert is buried in at the Mountain View cemetery in Vancouver in their soldier's section and his marker does not have the notation that he was a Victoria Cross recipient.
Some day that ought to change!