Heroism in the Presence of the Enemy

The Victoria Cross is the highest decoration for valour in the armed forces of Great Britain and the British Empire. It is awarded for extreme bravery in the face of the enemy.

So great is the prestige of the Victoria Cross that it takes precedence over all other orders and medals in Britain and recipients are entitled to add V.C. after their name. Only 1,348 crosses have been awarded since the honour was instituted.

The medal is bronze, depicting a lion on a crown with the inscription “FOR VALOUR”, while the reverse side has the date of the act for which the decoration is bestowed and the name, rank, and regiment of the recipient.

The first Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross was Alexander Roberts Dunn who, while serving as an officer in a British Army cavalry regiment, was awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism during the charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.

Canadian Victoria Crosses in World War 1

During the course of the First World War, 73 Canadians received the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy. Thirty of these brave Canadians earned their Victoria Crosses posthumously. The circumstances around each award are always impactful as is depicted in the citations for the award.

Valour Road

On rare occasions, there is a connection between heroes that is unrelated to their military service. Such is the case for Corporal Leo Clarke, Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall and Lieutenant Robert Shankland. Each was awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery during unrelated battles during the First World War. Prior to the war, each lived in the 700-block of Pine Street in Winnipeg. In 1925, in honour of these three young men, Pine Street was renamed Valour Road.

Valour Road Mural, Winnipeg

Valour Road, Winnipeg, is believed to be the only street in the world that was home to three recipients of their country’s highest award for extreme bravery in the presence of the enemy.

Victoria Cross Recipients in 100 Day Offensive

To read the story of each of the Victoria Cross recipients, click on their names below the photo.

Battle of Amiens – Dates

Engagements following Amiens

Battle of the Scarpe

Battle of Drocourt-Quéant

Battle of the Canal du Nord

Battle of Cambrai

Battle of Valenciennes

Hugh Cairns

Also of interest

Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldier fighting under the British Command.

Thomas Ricketts

Royal Air Force officer awarded the Victoria Cross during the 100 Days Offensive.

William George Barker

The Canadian Victoria Cross

In 1993, the Canadian Victoria Cross was created. Ostensibly, it is the same award as the British version, in so far as it is awarded for “the most conspicuous bravery, a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty, in the presence of the enemy”. Canada’s interpretation of the term “enemy” differs somewhat in that Canada does not specifically require an act of war against that enemy. Also, like its British counterpart, it can be awarded posthumously, it can not be revoked and the legend has been changed from “FOR VALOUR” to the Latin “PRO VALORE“.

To date, no Canadian has been awarded the Canadian Victoria Cross. Since the beginning of the war on terrorism started by the 9/11 attack in the US, 4 British, 4 Australian and 1 New Zealand Victoria Crosses have been awarded. The United States has awarded 28 Medals of Honor. Canada distinguished itself in the field of battle in both World Wars, consistently fighting above their weight class. Now the Canadian government is implying that since World War 2, and especially in Afghanistan, Canadian soldiers failed to demonstrate “conspicuous bravery”, made no acts of “valour or self-sacrifice” and failed to demonstrate “extreme devotion to duty” “in the presence of the enemy”.

This is just not the case and a group called Valour in the Presence of the Enemy, led by the former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, is trying to rectify it. They have submitted a petition to the Minister of National Defence in which they put forward a request that Private Jess Larochelle be considered for the Canadian Victoria Cross.

On Oct. 14, 2006, Pte. Jess Larochelle was severely wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded in his outpost in Pashmul, Afghanistan. The RPG hurled him across his observation post, broke his back, fracturing two neck vertebrae, blew out his eardrum and detached his right retina. Pte. Larochelle managed to crawl back to his C6 machine gun and open fire. When his ammunition ran low, he began engaging the enemy using M72 anti-tank weapons. His single handed actions, according to General Hillier, prevented an even worse tragedy because his position was on the flank of the larger Canadian force.

Honour the Fallen; Help the Living

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