Valour Road soldiers honoured on new stamp

Single stamp, covers pay tribute to three Victoria Cross recipients

By Jesse Robitaille

Canada Post’s latest issue commemorates three First World War soldiers who each received the prestigious Victoria Cross for their bravery and sacrifices while living on what was then called Pine Street in Winnipeg.

Renamed Valour Road in 1925, the iconic three-kilometre street in Winnipeg’s West End was home to Corporal Leo Clarke, Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall and Lieutenant Robert Shankland, who all lived on the same block.

“This story is one of ordinary Canadians responding to the call of duty, going overseas to serve their country,” Tony Glen, the director of exhibitions, creative development and learning at the Canadian War Museum, told Global News in 2014. “These three distinguished themselves in extraordinary ways.”

Bestowed on fewer than 100 Canadians since 1856, the Victoria Cross is the Commonwealth’s highest military decoration for bravery in combat.

Of the three Valour Road soldiers, Shankland was the only one to survive the war and attend the street’s renaming ceremony. Clarke and Hall were both posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, whose inscription reads “For Valour.” All three of the medals are now permanently displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

At the corner of Valour Road and Sargent Avenue in Winnipeg, a memorial statue honours the three soldiers at the Valour Road Commemorative Plaza, a Victoria Cross-shaped plaza designed in 2005 by David Wagner Associates. It features four bronze plaques mounted on Tyndall-stone bases accompanied by three metal silhouettes, one for each of the three soldiers. The fourth plaque highlights the Victoria Cross.

VALOUR ROAD SOLDIERS REMEMBERED

A memorial statue honouring the three Valour Road-based Victoria Cross recipients stands at the corner of that street and Sargent Avenue in Winnipeg. Photo by ‘Munchkinguy’ via CC BY-SA 3.0.

Corporal Lionel “Leo” Clarke and a small section of infantry were assigned to clear a German trench line near Pozières, France, during the Battle of the Somme.

After every man but Clarke was killed or severely wounded in the operation, Clarke single-handedly held off a German counterattack, despite a bayonet wound to his leg.

“Armed only with a pistol – Clarke had spent all his grenades – he continued to secure the trench,” reads a post on the website for Valour Canada, a non-profit charity. “Two enemy officers leading a party of 20 men attacked, but Clarke fought back valiantly. Despite suffering a bayonet wound to the knee, Clarke fired his pistol and managed to kill all of them, save for one which he brought back as a prisoner.”

After overcoming these “overwhelmingly dire odds,” the website adds, Clarke was promoted to sergeant; however, just weeks later – before he could be awarded the Victoria Cross – he was wounded by enemy artillery shells and died on Oct. 19, 1916.

In 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, Company Sergeant Major Frederick William Hall attempted to rescue a wounded soldier less than 15 metres outside a trench. Heavy machine-gun fire deterred his first attempt, but he tried again, reaching his comrade. As Hall started to carry him back to safety, both were killed.

“Though venturing into no-man’s land under heavy enemy gunfire was often deadly, Hall didn’t hesitate to act quickly,” reads the Valour Canada website. “That same day, he had already ran out twice to save two different injured men from certain death, and he had been successful both times.”

After Hall’s wartime death, his mother accepted the Victoria Cross on his behalf.

During the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, Lieutenant Robert Shankland won a strategic foothold on a ridge after his platoon and supporting soldiers were reduced to a remnant. Shankland led the surviving force against a fierce counterattack before making his way through thick mud and shelling to the battalion headquarters to report on the enemy position.

“After securing a defendable position, Shankland rallied in reinforcements and then continued the advance,” according to Valour Canada. “Shankland’s attack proved successful; he had caused the German Empire soldiers to retreat.”

After serving in the Second World War, Shankland later died in 1968.

Altogether, more than 61,000 Canadians died during the First World War.

The pictorial cancellation used on the official first-day covers echoes the street signage on Valour Road in Winnipeg.

STAMP & COVERS

Printed by Colour Innovations using five-colour lithography, the Valour Road issue is available in 10-stamp booklets, five-stamp panes and on three official first-day covers (OFDCs) serviced with a themed pictorial cancel from Winnipeg.

The stamps measure 30 millimetres by 40 millimetres and feature PVA gum. A total of 220,000 booklets and 35,000 panes (2.375 million stamps altogether) were printed.

A total of 8,000 sets of three OFDCs were also issued (24,000 covers altogether). They measure 190 millimetres by 112 millimetres.

NEXT STAMPS…

Following the Valour Road issue, Canada Post will issue a poppy stamp on Oct. 29.

Looking ahead to November, the final issues of the year will include:

  • a religious Christmas issue featuring angels on Nov. 1;
  • a secular holiday set featuring Santa, a reindeer and an elf also on Nov. 1;
  • a Hanukkah issue on Nov. 8;
  • an issue postponed from September and originally teased as having “universal appeal,” now coming on Nov. 19; and
  • another postponed September issue, teased as a “novel topic,” coming on Nov. 25.

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