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Excerpts from
Courage Rewarded: Canadian Soldiers Under Fire 1900-2007

Gallantry Awards to Canadians for the Second Battle of Ypres

It should therefore come as no surprise that, following the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, a large number of recommendations were quickly submitted by battalion commanders. The 1st Division had been through a trial that had tested the courage of the whole formation and it had held up well. Of the survivors, there were many who deserved recognition. The 1st Brigade alone submitted eleven recommendations for the Victoria Cross. One of these was for Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Birchall, Commanding Officer of the 4th (Central Ontario) Battalion, who had been killed during the counterattack against Pilkem Ridge, coolly leading his men while carrying a light cane. While his action had been a classic example of courage, the authorities felt it was not up to the standard needed for the Victoria Cross in 1915 and the recommendation was rejected. Consequently, Birchall could only receive a Mention in Despatches. Other recommendations were less impressive, as the 1st Division's officers sought to reward their men, but still did not grasp what was needed for recognition. For example, one recommendation was merely "for general bravery and splendid work in transmission of orders." Four others involved rescuing a wounded man under heavy fire, a recommendation that might have been approved in 1900. The recommendations for award of the Victoria Cross to these men were rejected.

The Canadian stand at Ypres received international praise and, two months later, the Division was given appropriate recognition as the final approvals of gallantry awards were published. Seventy-nine gallantry decorations were awarded, including three Victoria Crosses, 20 Distinguished Service Orders, 10 Military Crosses, 46 Distinguished Conduct Medals as well as a large number of Mentions in Despatches. Seven senior officers were given honours (five appointed as Companions of the Order of the Bath and two of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) and three awards were received from foreign governments (two Légions d'Honneur from France and one Order of St. Anne, 4th Class from Russia). While these honours and decorations were a small fraction of the total number that would be awarded in the ensuing three years, they are perhaps the most significant because they mark the dramatic confirmation of the hitherto untried Canadian Expeditionary Force as a significant military formation.