Three soldiers, all of whom lived on Winnipeg’s Pine Street. They served in the same war. And remarkably, each was awarded a prestigious Victoria Cross.
Bestowed on fewer than 100 Canadians since 1856, the Victoria Cross is the Commonwealth’s highest military decoration for bravery in combat. It is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour, self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy,” says Veterans Affairs Canada.
In 1925, Pine Street was renamed in memory of these three local soldiers. While there’s no evidence the men knew each other, the street they once lived on is now dedicated to their courage and sacrifice in the First World War. It’s called Valour Road.
Lionel (Leo) Clarke, VC
One of the men, Leo Clarke (1892-1916), moved with his family to Pine Street as a teenager. Working in the North as a railway surveyor before the First World War, he returned home to enlist in February 1915.
During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Clarke and a small section of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion were assigned to clear a German trench line near Pozières, France. After every man but Clarke was killed or severely wounded in the operation, he held off a German counterattack despite a bayonet wound to his leg.
“He’s in a sense the last person standing, and just through his determination and grit, he holds off that position against an overwhelming German force, and defeats them. And that prevents the Germans from getting past that position and recapturing the trench,” says Eric Fernberg, a collections specialist at the Canadian War Museum.
Clarke was promoted to sergeant. He died the following month from enemy artillery shelling. Clarke’s Victoria Cross was presented posthumously to his father, Henry Clarke.
Robert Shankland, VC, DCM
Robert Shankland (1887-1968) immigrated to Canada in 1911 and moved to Pine Street a few years later. In December 1914 he enlisted in the 43rd Canadian Infantry Battalion. During the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, Shankland’s platoon and supporting soldiers were reduced to a remnant – but they had won a foothold on the strategic Bellevue Spur ridge.
Shankland led the surviving force against a fierce counterattack, holding the position. He then made his way through thick mud and shelling to battalion headquarters to report on the Germans’ position.
King George V presented the Victoria Cross to Shankland in 1918. Two years earlier, he had received a Distinguished Conduct Medal for leading stretcher-bearers under heavy fire. Shankland attended the renaming of Pine Street in 1925 and also served in the Second World War.
While Shankland cared deeply about his Victoria Cross and what it represented, “he didn’t really talk about it – to us he was grandpa,” says his grandson, Mark Cameron Shankland. The new stamp is an opportunity to keep stories like his alive, he says. “I was amazed at how interested my daughter was in learning about her great-grandfather and telling her class about it at school.”
Frederick William Hall, VC
Immigrating to Canada in 1913, Frederick Hall (1885-1915) lived on Pine Street while working as a shipping clerk. After the declaration of war, he enlisted in the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion and quickly rose to the rank of company sergeant major.
During the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium in 1915, Hall and two others attempted to rescue a wounded soldier less than 15 metres outside their trench. Earlier that day, Hall had rescued two other injured men on the battlefield. After heavy machine-gun fire wounded the other two soldiers and sent Hall back for cover, Hall tried again, reaching his comrade. As Hall began to lift him, he and the soldier were killed. His Victoria Cross was delivered posthumously to his mother, Mary Hall, with a letter from King George V.
Hall’s brother, Henry Hall, also fought in the war and received word that Frederick died in battle. “He was both shattered with the news that his brother had died and extremely proud that he received the Victoria Cross,” says Doug Cargo, great-nephew of Frederick Hall.
Cargo says he visits the National War Memorial on Remembrance Day to pay his respects. “I always make a point of going to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The probability is not great, but there is a possibility that’s my uncle.”
Honouring those who serve
“The boys of Valour Road” were everyday Canadians who overcame hardship and fear while demonstrating extraordinary courage and sacrifice. They symbolize all those who served in the First World War –– a horrific conflict that claimed roughly 61,000 Canadian lives – and the selflessness of all Canadian veterans and service members.
“Valour Road is special to me because it’s the community honouring their own,” Fernberg says. “It keeps that remembrance alive.”
Stamp honours three Victoria Cross recipients who lived on Winnipeg’s Pine StreetAvailable now