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Recovery Ceremony for F. Konowal Victoria Cross


Canadawwi
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Canadian members may be familiar with the story of the recent recovery of the missing WWI Victoria Cross. The cross went missing from the Canadian War Museum. It was awarded to Filip Konowal, CEF, for killing 16 soldiers in hand-to-hand combat near Lens, France, in 1917.

Here's some info about an upcoming reception, and a recent article:

*** Advance notice of Event***

Aug. 23, Mon. A "recovery ceremony" for the Filip Konowal Victoria Cross, which was returned to the custody of the Canadian War Museum on 28 June. The ceremony is organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Assoc. in collaboration with Branch 360 of The Royal Canadian Legion (Konowal Branch) and the Canadian War Museum. Further details to follow. Information: Lubomyr Luciuk, UCCLA, (613) 546-8364.

Victoria Cross Recovered and Returned

Toronto/Calgary - 29 June 2004

Senior officials have confirmed that Filip Konowal's Victoria Cross has been returned to the safe keeping of the Canadian War Museum, after having been missing for over 30 years.

On 2 April 2004, UCCLA's director of research, Dr Lubomyr Luciuk, received an email from Iain Stewart, who lives in Devon county, England, informing him that this VC, long thought to have been "misplaced" within the War Museum's collections was, in fact, for sale by Jeffrey Hoare Auctions, of London, Ontario. The immediate intervention of Canadian War Museum officials and the RCMP prevented that and, over the past few months, authentication procedures have confirmed that the medal in question was a genuine Victoria Cross and the one earned by Filip Konowal, a Ukrainian Canadian, for his valour during the Battle for Hill 70, near Lens, France, on 22-23 August 1917.

A recovery ceremony is being planned for 23 August 2004 at the Canadian War Museum, in concert with the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #360 (Konowal Branch) and UCCLA.

Commenting on the news, UCCLA's chairman and president of Branch #360, John B Gregorovich, said:

" We were delighted when Konowal's Victoria Cross was found and we celebrate the even better news that it will be returned to its rightful owners, the people of Canada. All of us will now have a chance to see this VC in the new Canadian War Museum. We expect that Konowal's medal will be permanently displayed there, a reminder not only of this Ukrainian Canadian's valour but of all the sacrifices made by those Canadians who were distinguished with the highest medal that British Empire ever bestowed, the Victoria Cross. And, most certainly, we look forward to learning just where Konowal's medal was these many years, a tale in its own right, yet to be fully told."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PUBLICATION: WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

DATE: 2004.06.29

PAGE: A8

SECTION: City

Rare medal returned, but mystery remains: Officials mum on its 31-year disappearance

By Alexandra Paul

A rare Victoria Cross that suddenly surfaced on the auction block 31 years after it vanished from the Canadian War Museum is being returned to its rightful owners while the story behind its disappearance remains a mystery.

Ottawa RCMP and war museum officials confirmed yesterday the medal is being returned to the museum.

"The RCMP will give the medal back Wednesday at the latest and we will be having a ceremony to commemorate its return Aug. 23," museum spokeswoman Christina Selin said.

She deferred questions about its 31-year disappearance to RCMP in the capital who headed the investigation.

RCMP Sgt. Andre Digras said yesterday he did not have access to the file on the investigation, so he couldn't clear up the mystery either.

"I do know the medal is being returned to the museum. I don't believe there are any charges yet," Digras said.

The medal is important because it is one of only 95 Victoria Crosses awarded to a Canadian. The medal, which is the British Commonwealth's highest honour for bravery, was awarded to Filip Konowal for killing 16 soldiers in hand-to-hand combat near Lens, France, in 1917. It is the only Victoria Cross known to have been awarded to a Ukrainian-Canadian.

Its return to the museum was greeted with mixed feelings yesterday.

Ukrainian-Canadian historians say they are pleased the medal is safe, but they're perplexed about the silence they say has descended on its disappearance and the investigation into its recovery.

"As far as it coming home to where it belongs, it's a great ending to the story, but there's a big story (to be told) on how it went missing and how it went up for auction," said former Winnipegger Peter Melnycky, an Alberta historian who has written about Ukrainians in Canada and collects military medals.

The man who tipped the museum off in April that the medal was being auctioned echoed the sentiments.

"I'm delighted a piece of Ukrainian-Canadian history is being rescued, but there is still a tale to be told," said Lubomyr Luciuk, research director with the Ukrainian-Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

He said the lack of explanation casts a shadow on the good news of the medal's return.

"Would you be comfortable sending your father's medals or your grandfather's medals to a place where you know really rare medals can go out the back door?" Luciuk asked.

It's thanks to Luciuk the medal, valued at $240,000, was spotted before it disappeared for good.

Luciuk said he found out about the medal this spring from a British man who saw it up for private auction on a website and recognized its priceless value to Ukrainian-Canadian heritage.

Once Luciuk confirmed the report, he notified the museum and within hours the RCMP started an investigation.

RCMP seized the medal from Jeffrey Hoare Auctions in London, Ont., in April. The valuable artifact went missing in 1973 after a photo session at the museum and was long thought to have been misplaced somewhere in the museum's collections.

"The bizarre part is there are no criminal charges and there's no story being told on where this prodigal medal has been for 30 years," Luciuk said.

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Canadawwi

It seems strange that no charges were filed or no explaination was given for the whereabouts for the past 31 years. I am a little interested in knowing if there is still a on going investigation. I am supprised that this was not mentioned in the press release you would think that this was a major topic of intrest.

Best regards

N.S.Regt.

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Hi NS Regiment!

From what I recall, and I may be confusing or forgetting some details, the medal were taken to a special event display. It may have been switched by the thief at that event.

Later on, Professor Luciuk was researching Konowal and became a bit suspicious upon viewing the medal on display. He approached the museum about it repeatedly. He was not given a straight answer. I've met Luciuk in the past, and he's very determined and focused, and if he wasn't on top of this, the medal would still be missing. The head of Canada's War Amps was also upset about this matter, and his letters regarding this incident are on their website.

Best regards, canadawwi

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Canadawwi

Just got back from the war amps site the way they put it it seems like the War Museum and the RCMP are covering up something. He even stated it may have been a inside job. it makes you wonder what else has gone "missing".

Best Regards

N.S.Regt.

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Yes - I do wonder about that!

A while back I read that they have many more items donated that they can display and a lot in storage. That is really a shame since taxpayer's money gets wasted on so many worthless things, while the last memories of many heroes sit in a storage space.

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Canadawwi

It happens in a number of museums I know of people who have bought things from Curators which I feel should remain there. Also I was offered a MC and Bar to the 25th I normally would have been all over it but I knew where the medal should be. I reported this to the seller who clamed the man he got it from was family. The veteran never was married and died only a few years previous and seeing the medals in the legion I was suspect. The Seller did return the medals but again no action was taked against the person who removed them. Stolen medals are a big concern with me I prefer to get them from family or indirectly from them from a dealer. Another case involving stolen medals with me was I bought two groups to the 25th battalion to brothers a third served with the 24th.

I went and talked to the son of the veteran about his father and his uncles I ended up with a nice picture of the three of them. He had told me his fathers medal went missing after his death at a nursing home a MM group for Vimy. A couple of years later I was asked what I knew about this soldier and was told the medals were for sale. he had bought them from the person running the home who had taken them before the son retrieved the effects. The son was told about the medals but did not want them back and wanted them to go to a good home so I bought them. Still I did not feel right about it but felt it was good to reunite the medals with the brothers. I only did this because the veteran's son gave the OK and would never have bought them otherwise.

Best Regards

N.S.Regt.

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That is very kind of you to handle your collecting in that manner.

My grandfather and his brother's WWI medals are all missing somewhere. We just have one memorial plaque. Some day I hope they will turn up, maybe on ebay? They're just the usual WWI medals, but they mean a lot to me. A doctor dealing with the nursing home somehow picked over and took the best items and later opened an antique store.

Last November a candy store owner in Toronto thought it would be nice to make a small memorial display in his store window. He put his father-in-law's medals in the window in a display with other memorabilia. I remember seeing it and I thought it was so nice since almost nobody ever bothers to do that. Then an article appeared in the newspaper that they were stolen, and he was absolutely devastated. That was right downtown, and not far from where there are a lot of desperate individuals in need of quick money. There are also about 10 pawnshops not far from his store, and they might have ended up there. I don't think they've ever been found.

Well, back to my reading, so I wish you goodnight. It's Vimy by Pierre Berton, of course!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've received this update (see below) on the Konowal ceremony on August 23rd. This is the official press release from the War Museum.

************************************************

MEDIA ADVISORY and PHOTO OPPORTUNITY

You are invited to attend a ceremony to commemorate the return of Corporal Filip Konowal's Victoria Cross

Monday, August 23, 2004, 10:45 a.m.

First World War Gallery

Canadian War Museum

330 Sussex Drive

Ottawa, Ontario

The Canadian War Museum is pleased to acknowledge formally the return of Corporal Filip Konowal's Victoria Cross medal to its permanent collection.

Mr. Joe Geurts, Director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum,and Mr. Lubomyr Luciuk, representing the Canadian Ukrainian community, will speak to assembled guests.

R.S.V.P. and information

Christina Selin

Senior Communications Officer

(819) 776-8607

christina.selin@warmuseum.ca

Pierre Leduc

Communications Officer

(819) 776-8608

pierre.leduc@warmuseum.ca

Victoria Cross returns to Canadian War Museum

Ottawa, Ontario, June 29, 2004 - Corporal Filip Konowal's Victoria Cross has been returned to the Canadian War Museum (CWM).

"The Canadian War Museum is delighted to announce the return of the Konowal Victoria Cross. We will hold a ceremony to welcome the medal back into the National Collection this summer," explained Joe Geurts, Director and CEO of the CWM. "It is a great day for the Museum and for all Canadians, as the medal is an important part of our national collective heritage."

Filip Konowal's story will be told in the First World War gallery of the new Canadian War Museum opening in May 2005 on LeBreton Flats. In a section of this gallery, the Museum will present the internment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War. Konowal's story will juxtapose the fact that while some Ukrainian immigrants were interned at home by their government as enemy aliens, others served with distinction overseas in the Canadian Forces.

"The Museum would like to congratulate the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the swiftness of its investigation, resulting in the conclusion of this case and the return of the medal," said Mr. Geurts.

A ceremony will be held at the Canadian War Museum on August 23, 2004. This date coincides with Filip Konowal's citation for his Victoria Cross that notes that he received it for actions over a three-day period, from August 22 to 24, 1917.

Background

Filip Konowal at the new Canadian War Museum

The new Canadian War Museum's permanent exhibition space has been divided into a number of galleries, telling the story of conflict and resolution throughout Canada's history. Each gallery highlights defining moments in the country's development as a nation.

This walk through time transports visitors across the country and around the world, introducing them to the men and women who have contributed to the development of Canada through military operations in times of war and peace, and on the home-front. The new Canadian War Museum is dedicated to bringing the story of Canada's military past to life as it familiarizes visitors with the human side of war, from victim to victor and soldier to civilian.

Within this broader context, Filip Konowal's story will be told in the First World War gallery. In a section of this gallery, the Museum will present the internment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War. Konowal's story will juxtapose the fact that while some Ukrainian immigrants were interned at home by their government as enemy aliens, others served with distinction overseas in the Canadian Forces.

Filip Konowal (1887-1959)

Corporal Filip Konowal is the only Ukrainian Canadian to win the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for bravery of the British Empire. While serving with the 47th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he fought in the August 1917 battle for Hill 70, near Lens, France.

The citation for his Victoria Cross notes that he received it for actions over a three-day period, from August 22 to 24, 1917:

"For most conspicuous bravery and leadership when in charge of a section attack. His section had the difficult task of mopping up cellars, craters and machine gun emplacements. Under his able direction all resistance was overcome successfully, and heavy casualties inflicted upon the enemy. In one cellar he himself bayoneted three enemy [sic] and attacked single-handed seven others in a crater, killing them all.

On reaching the objective, a machine gun was holding up the right flank, causing many casualties. Cpl. Konowal rushed forward and entered the emplacement, killing the crew, and brought the gun back to our lines. The next day he again attacked single-handed another machine gun emplacement, killing three of the crew, and destroying the gun and emplacement with explosives.

This non commissioned officer alone killed at least sixteen of the enemy, during the two days of actual fighting, and carried on continuously his good work until severely wounded.

At his investiture, King George V remarked:

"Your Exploit is one of the most daring and heroic in the history of my army. For this, accept my thanks."

After recovering from wounds suffered during the battle, he served in a number of reserve units, and for a time, he was the military attaché to the Russian Embassy in London.

Konowal was repatriated to Canada and demobilized in 1919, but suffered from medical and other problems, probably as a result of his war wounds. In 1919, he killed a man in a bar fight. He was subsequently acquitted of murder, but spent several years in a mental care facility.

Konowal enlisted in the Governor General's Foot Guards in 1928. During the Depression, he was employed as a junior caretaker at the House of Commons. A few years later, Konowal was reassigned to the position of special custodian of room no. 16, the office of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. It was a post he held until his death.

In 1956, after Ukrainian Canadians helped to raise money for his trip, Konowal joined 300 other Victoria Cross winners from around the world at a formal gathering at Westminster Hall. On June 26, they participated in a march-past at Hyde Park and were reviewed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Filip Konowal died on June 3, 1959 at the age of 72. He is buried in Notre Dame Cemetery, in Ottawa. A few years before Konowal's death, George Salsky said the following on CBC radio:

"Just as the scar on Filip Konowal's face has not disappeared, so will never fade the fame of this former Canadian soldier of Ukrainian origin, whose name is written in letters of gold in the history of Canada and the First World War."

Konowal remains an important figure in the Ukrainian community, his wartime heroism representative of those thousands of Ukrainians who served during the First World War. There have been a number of commemorative events in Konowal's honour and, in 1996, several trilingual plaques were unveiled across the country.

The plaques bear the following inscription, in English, French and Ukrainian:

"Filip Konowal, a Ukrainian Canadian who enlisted in the 77th Battalion, while serving as a corporal with the 47th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, fought with exceptional valour in August 1917 near Lens, France. For this His Majesty King George V personally conferred the Victoria Cross on him in London on 15 October 1917".

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