Canadian War Museum collection adds another Victoria Cross

Lt. Robert Hill Hanna of B Company, 29th Infantry Battalion. Photo courtesy of the Canadian War Museum.

Over the years, 99 Victoria Cross medals have been awarded to Canadians for bravery in combat.

The Canadian War Museum has been on a military mission of its to acquire all 99 and they have just managed to obtain the one awarded to Lt. Robert Hill Hanna of B Company, 29th Infantry Battalion, for his role in the Battle of Hill 70 during the First World War. The battle of Hill 70 was an important action during the final 18 months of the war. Six Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadians in that battle alone and the museum has four of them.

The museum obtained the medal with the help of Cyril Woods and the Hill 70 Memorial Project, along with the involvement of the museum’s National Collection Fund. Woods is a founding donor of the Hill 70 project.

“The Battle of Hill 70 was a significant tactical victory for the Allies. This medal set is a tangible reminder of that battle and it will help us tell the story in a new display, to be unveiled in one of our galleries,” said James Whitham, who is the acting Director General of the Canadian War Museum, in a media release.

The Battle of Hill 70 took place between Aug. 15 and 25, 1917. It was the first major engagement fought by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander. The Canadians, led by Lt.-Gen. Sir Arthur Currie, gave the Allies a strategically important position overlooking the city of Lens, in France. In the battle, 1,877 Canadians were killed and more than 7,000 wounded or missing in action. 

On Aug. 21, Sergeant Major Hanna led his company of the 29th Battalion in a successful assault on a German machine-gun nest after all the officers had been killed in three previous attempts. Hanna survived the war and died in 1967 near Abbotsford, B.C. at age 79. 

“As a Canadian born, like Robert Hanna, in Northern Ireland, I am honoured that his Victoria Cross will be preserved and displayed by the Museum for the benefit of all Canadians,” said Woods, in the release.

The other Victoria Crosses in the museum collection from Hill 70 were given to Sergeant Frederick Hobson, Corporal Filip Konowal and Private Harry Brown. The Victoria Cross awarded to Acting Major Okill Massey Learmonth is held by the Governor General’s Foot Guards Regimental Museum, also in Ottawa. The Victoria Cross awarded to Private Michael James O’Rourke has been missing since the 1920s.

The museum intends to exhibit the Hill 70 Victoria Crosses in 2019 in a special display.

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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.