Canada’s last known Veteran of the First World War, John “Jack” Babcock, passed away on February 18, 2010, marking the end of an era in Canada’s military history.
Canada’s population was less than eight million people when WWI broke out in 1914, but more than 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders served overseas to protect the peace and freedom we enjoy today.
By 1918, more than 68,000 had given their lives and another 170,000 would be wounded. While it is important that we remember and honour the struggles all of these men and women faced, 64 soldiers and airmen of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were awarded Victoria Crosses for outstanding deeds of gallantry in WWI action.
At the Front Line at Ledeghem, Belgium, in 1918, Newfoundlander Sergeant Tommy Ricketts at 17 years old was the youngest Canadian V.C. recipient.
Canadian flying ace Billy Bishop of Owen Sound, Ontario, was awarded the Victoria Cross and several other decorations for his daring exploits during the First World War. He is credited with shooting down 72 enemy planes.
The Victoria Cross has been awarded since 1854 for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.
John Chipman Kerr V.C. received his Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1916 for his bravery at the Somme. Locally in the City of Port Moody, where John passed away in 1963, he is remembered by Chip Kerr Park, and at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 119 by the Chip Kerr Memorial Auditorium; both being named in his honour.
A few other Canadian V.C’s of note (non-WWI):
The first Canadian V.C. recipient was 21-year-old Lieutenant Alexander Robertson Dunn in the 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War at Balaclava as a member of the 11th Prince Albert’s Own Regiment of Light Dragoons (Hussars). Dunn was born in York, Upper Canada (now Toronto, Ontario).
On 16 November 1857 at the siege of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny, Canadian Able Seaman William Nelson Hall was the first Black to win a V.C. Hall was the son of freed American slaves and born in Horton’s Bluff, NS.
Trail, BC born Naval Airman Lieutenant Robert Hampton (Hammy) Gray was the last Canadian to be awarded (posthumously) the V.C. on November 13,1945. On August 9th in Onagawa Wan (Bay), Japan, he gave his life while sinking a destroyer.
The number of Canadians awarded the Victoria Cross varies significantly on how the total is calculated.
Eighty-one Victoria Crosses were awarded to members of the Canadian military (including Newfoundland) from the South African War to the end of the Second World War, and another 13 awards were made to men born in Canada serving in British military units.
More than a dozen others could be added to the list as being associated with Canada through emigration from the United Kingdom, service on garrison duties in Canada, or, in one case, through the heroic deed having taken place in Canada. In 1866 while Irishman, Timothy O’Hea of the 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own), British Army, was stationed in Danville, Quebec he became the first and only recipient of a V.C. won in Canada.