Canadian War Museum acquires Currie Victoria Cross

The Currie medal set on display at the Canadian War Museum.

With the acquisition of the Currie Victoria Cross, the Canadian War Museum has now acquired 38 or the 99 awarded to Canadian soldiers in the existence of the medal, which is the highest honour for bravery that a Canadian can win.

This medal was awarded to Lt.Col. David Vivian Currie of the South Alberta Regiment for his exceptional leadership and bravery during a decisive battle in Normandy after the D-Day invasion. It is one of 16 awarded to Canadians during the Second World War and the only one given to a member of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.

The museum said in a media release that the purchase of David Currie’s medal set was made possible by the generous support of the Movable Cultural Property Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Museum’s National Collection Fund and contributions from the Brownlee Family Foundation along with honorary members of the North Saskatchewan Regiment.

Sandra, Brenda and David Currie with their grandfather’s Victoria Cross medal set. Photo Peter Robb

The medal has “outstanding significance and national importance, according to the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.

Currie’s Victoria Cross was won during the 36-hour battle at Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives, which played a central role in closing the Falaise Gap in August 1944. After the war, Currie was the sergeant-at-arms in the House of Commons from 1960 to 1978. He died in 1986. 

Also on display on Tuesday afternoon at the museum were the Victoria Crosses awarded to Corp. Colin Fraser Barron of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Passchendaele, Belgium in 1917 and Lt. Col. Harcus Strachan of the Fort Garry Horse for his actions during the battle of Masinieres, France. All three sets will be on display at the Canadian War Museum until May 29.

The Currie Victoria Cross became a national story last year when it was put up for auction and was possibly leaving the country, said the CEO of the Canadian Museum of History Corporation Mark O’Neill.

“We can now assure Canadians this rare piece of our military heritage will remain in this country for the benefit of our and future generations,” O’Neill said.

“I don’t think anything can replace the experience of an object to a visitor. The whole world is not virtual. There is a place where visitors need to come where they can come face to face with their tangible heritage. The Victoria Crosses are tangible connections. They know rank. What matters is what you did,” he added later.

The battle to keep the medal in Canada was led by Currie’s grandchildren, Brenda, Sandra and David Currie, all of whom were at the museum on Tuesday afternoon.

The Currie, Barron and Strachan Victoria Crosses have all been acquired in the past six months, O’Neill said.

“These were ordinary people doing extraordinary things, O’Neill said, “and each medal tells a profoundly different story. They are very unifying artifacts. They are a very useful way for Canadians to learn about honour and sacrifice.”

For Sandra Currie of Powell River, B.C., “I feel so happy to see the medals here. Our family is elated that they are home. It is very comforting.”

She hopes the medals will be a symbol for Canadians.”We just can’t forget.”

It was of the utmost importance for the Curries that the medals stay in Canada, she said. They had been sold by Currie’s wife after his death and they were put up for auction and sold for about $550,000, with auction fees, the total was $660,000. The museum would have paid more than that but it does not reveal amounts. The Curries wrote to politicians to gather public support and it all came together.

“When we got the news we were thrilled.”

Currie said her grandfather never talked about the war.”I think it was something that he had put behind him. He was the strong silent type.”

Toronto area Lesley Barron, the great-grandaughter of Colin Barron, too, was emotional about the acquisition of her relative’s medal and seeing it on display.

Her father had sold them to help raise his family about three decades ago. She spent about a decade looking for the medal and when it came up for auction she alerted the museum and they were able to acquire it.

O’Neill says the museum should try to acquire all the Victoria Crosses that are not in the collection. There were 99 awarded and about a third remain outstanding. Some have been lost forever, stolen and never recovered, said Eric Fernberg, the collections specialist at the War Museum.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan was impressed by the connection to the House of Commons through the former sergeant-at-arms.

“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication on behalf of any family to make something like this happen.The most important thing for me was to congratulate the family on efforts like this. I also have to commend the War Museum too for the way that they handled this … (putting) a human face behind the medal. This is a man who earned it.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.