Sacrifices At The Battle Of Hill 70

Further to this article, Lubomyr Luciuk travelled to France for the unveiling of the plaque and bas relief honouring Ukrainian-Canadian Filip Konowal, who distinguished himself during the Battle of Hill 70 one hundred years ago, on August 22, 1917. Below are photos from the ceremony and a press release from the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association:

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 Trilingual plaque honouring Cpl Konowal &  bas relief  of Konowal (detail from a trilingual plaque unveiled by Branch #360 of The Royal Canadian Legion [Konowal Branch] on 22 August 2005, in Lens, France)

Trilingual plaque honouring Cpl Konowal & bas relief of Konowal (detail from a trilingual plaque unveiled by Branch #360 of The Royal Canadian Legion [Konowal Branch] on 22 August 2005, in Lens, France)

On Tuesday, 22 August 2017, hundreds of people from France and a sizeable delegation of Ukrainians from the Diaspora attended the public unveiling of the Battle of Hill 70 Memorial, at Loos-en-Gohelle, France. Included in the ceremony was an official opening of the Konowal Walk. Corporal Konowal’s valour at the Battle of Hill 70 one hundred years ago (22 August 1917) was recognized with the highest medal of the British Empire, the Victoria Cross, the only Ukrainian ever so distinguished. The naming of the central pathway at the Hill 70 memorial after Konowal was made possible through the generosity of the Temerty Family Foundation, the Ihnatowycz Family Foundation, the Petro Jacyk Education Foundation, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation, Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation, Ukrainian Canadian Veterans Fund, Shevchenko Foundation and other Ukrainian Canadian organizations and individuals, with the support of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain. Shown from left to right are Paul Grod (president, Ukrainian Canadian Congress), Professor Lubomyr Luciuk (chairman, UCCLF) and the presiding officer, Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk (Commander, Canadian Army). Commenting, Dr Luciuk said: “This is a very fitting tribute to a Canadian hero, 100 years to the day on which his valour in a fierce battle won him the Victoria Cross. Almost two decades ago the chairman of Branch #360 of The Royal Canadian Legion, the late John B Gregorovich, initiated our community’s efforts to honour Cpl Konowal, the honourary patron of that branch. Being here today to see John’s vision finally realized, on the site where Konowal fought so bravely, is a privilege. This Ukrainian Canadian hero will now always be remembered."


A Prayer For Those Who Did Not Come Back

(Volume 24-4)

By Lubomyr Luciuk

My parents took me there when I was a young lad. I recall going into City Park, to the corner of Wellington and West Streets, and walking around the Great War memorial reading the names of the battles where Kingston’s 21st Battalion fought- the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Ypres, Passchendaele, Hill 70. I had no clue as to where those places were or what they echoed. What I do remember is being puzzled by the statue. A sculpted infantryman stands high on a plinth, gazing upwards. I remember wondering - shouldn’t a fighting man be looking forward, toward the enemy’s trenches? I can’t say I liked this statue, not then. It simply wasn’t martial enough for a boy.

Years later I found myself researching the life of a Great War soldier, Corporal Filip Konowal. He served in the ranks of the 49th Battalion - at the Somme, on Vimy Ridge and then at Hill 70, his valour in that battle earning him a Victoria Cross, the only Ukrainian Canadian ever so distinguished. It seems my interest in Konowal eventually caught the notice of a remarkable group of Kingstonians who had come together determined to recover the memory of the Battle of Hill 70. Under the able leadership ofColonel (retd) Mark Hutchings, and with the patronage of His Excellency David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada, these men and women have already raised several million dollars for a Hill 70 memorial at Loos-en-Gohell, in France. It was unveiled on Saturday, 8 April. I was  there.

I have been to Lens before, on 22 August 2005, unveiling a trilingual plaque and bas relief honouring Corporal Konowal. Thanks to the generosity of some proud Canadian Ukrainians his valour will be further commemorated as the central pathway at the Hill 70 memorial is being named the Konowal Walk. I am honoured to have done my bit to make that happen. But I am also a proud Kingstonian. And so today, as I stand atop Hill 70, I will be thinking not only about Konowal but about those whose came to this very place some 100 years ago, but never left.

While it is true that we don’t know if any Kingstonians died at Hill 70 what is certain is that at least seven soldiers from our city were killed as that battle raged, between 15-25 August 1917. Lieutenant Frederick Gooch died in action on 15 August, as did Portsmouth’s Private Harold Langsford, and Private Henry Vivian, who enlisted on 11 November 1915 and whose wife Sarah once lived at 236 Wellington Street. Private Thomas McFern, 18, from Amherst Island, was killed “near Lens” on 17th August; his military will, dated 14 March 1917, left his estate to his mother, Rose. Private Marshal Polmateer, from Arden, died in the field on 18th August, Private Charles Bremner, originally from Battersea, on 21st August, and Private Joseph Boyd, a KCVI graduate, on 24th August.  From nearby Napanee, Corporal Frank Davern was definitely in the fight. Even though he lied about his age (17) when he enlisted in the 21st he proved a resourceful signaller, winning a Military Medal for bravery at the Somme. In his last letter home, 1 May 1917, he observed his unit had been “very busy lately” at Vimy Ridge, adding that while the enemy “occasionally… reaches out with long range guns that does not trouble us as long as he does not have our name and number on it.” On the 16th August 1917 the enemy did. Davern suffered a serious shrapnel wound to his left leg, dying 3 days later at a casualty clearing station. He now lies buried in the Bruay Communal Cemetery,  forever aged 19, one of the 8,677 casualties the Canadian Expeditionary Force took at Hill 70. As for Kingston’s 21st - of the 1,013 volunteers who left our city in May 1915, and moved into the trenches of the Western Front on 18 September 1915, only 103 were still with the battalion when it marched into Germany in 1918.

When I got home I went to City Park and again stood by the war memorial. I finally realize what its creator intended. On the monument’s front, facing east, are carved the poppies of Flanders Fields adorned with a Cross, sacred symbols of the sacrificed surrounded by the upward-flowing rays of a stylized sunrise. I shall pause, face east, and offer up a prayer for those who never returned from France. I now understand that, for many more years than I have been alive, this centurion has stood not simply to herald triumphs won on earthly battlegrounds but as a reminder of the hope of the Resurrection, the very message of Easter. Often it takes the passage of much time before you see truly.

 

Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at The Royal Military College of Canada and author of A Canadian Hero: Corporal Filip Konowal, VC and the Battle of Hill 70

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