A CANADIAN WWI VICTORIA CROSS ON SALE A CENTURY AFTER IT WAS AWARDED. IT WAS SUCCESSFULLY PURCHASED BY THE CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM FOR $350,000. THE MEDALS WERE AWARDED TO COLIN FRASER BARRON.
The Battle of Passchendaele, Belgium in November 1917… where more than 500,000 people including 15,000 Canadians, were either killed or seriously wounded during the prolonged fight, as weeks of rain and shell fire churned the battlefield into a sea of mud and blood…
Yet amid the horrors that enveloped a small part of Belgium in the summer and fall of 1917, nine Canadians would be awarded the Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest medal for extreme bravery.
Now, in December 2017, one of those medals, awarded to 24 year old Cpl. Colin Barron for his actions 100 years ago, was to be auctioned in London on December 5th.
What is fascinating about Barron is not just the caliber of the citation, but one might even call it a suicidal mission to do what he did, according to David Erskine - Hill, an historian. “He strikes me as a soldiers’ soldier. He is out there to help his comrades , and whilst he takes lives, the enemy, he also saves many, his comrades.”
On November 6th, 1917, a cold drizzle was falling on the muddy, shell torn and blood soaked fields surrounding the Belgian village and ridge bearing the Passchendaele name. The men of the Canadian Corps, clerks, farmers, miners, lumberjacks, shopkeepers, and in Barron’s case, a railway worker, had been fighting in the quagmire of mud for just over two weeks, without water and even less food.
Barron was part of a third assault group on a heavily guarded ridge defended by a pillbox and five machine guns. The Canadians had already tried several times to get close enough to be able to throw grenades, but each time driven back with heavy casualties. Barron, who was later described as a “dare devil”, decided to “try his luck”. Worming his way around the flank, dragging a heavy Lewis machine gun and his own backpack, he somehow managed to reach a position close to the enemy strong-point despite being shot at by German gunners. Then he charged the machine batteries and opened fire with devastating point blank results.
The citation for Barron’s Victoria Cross would later credit his actions with having “produced far reaching results, and enabled the advancement to be continued.”
The Canadians would suffer horribly at Passchendaele, and yet we remember the battle with pride, as we think of the brave soldiers, who fought and died fighting an impossible fight with perseverance, valour and commitment to the greater cause.
After the war, Barron came back to Canada and tried to join the RCMP, but was rejected, being told he was too short. He later joined the Ontario Provincial Police before re-enlisting and served through the 2nd World War, being de-mobbed in 1945.
Colin Fraser Barron died at Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto, Ontario in 1958.
A total of 96 Victoria Cross medals have been awarded to Canadians since the award was established in 1856, but none since the Second World War.