Earlier this month, the Canadian War Museum acquired a Victoria Cross group of 10 medal set awarded to a Canadian soldier for his exceptional bravery in one of the most tragic battles of the First World War.
The Victoria Cross – the highest award for military valour – was awarded in 1917 to Corporal Colin Fraser Barron, of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, for his heroism at the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium. Later named a sergeant, Barron was recognized for his successful single-handed attack on a cluster of three enemy machine guns.
“This medal is a testament to one soldier’s courage and a symbol of the service and sacrifice of all Canadian soldiers who fought on the Western Front a century ago,” said Mark O’Neill, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History.
The museum purchased Barron’s Victoria Cross group of 10 medal set for $420,000 ($350,000 plus 20 per cent buyer’s premium) through the U.K.’s Spink & Son on Dec. 4.
“Its acquisition is especially meaningful this year as we commemorate the centenary of Passchendaele, Vimy Ridge and other iconic battles of the First World War.”
The purchase was made possible by the generous support of Barron’s great-granddaughter Leslie Barron Kerr as well as by the donor-supported National Collection Fund, which helps the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum acquire nationally-significant artifacts.
Sold as Lot 724 of Spink’s Auction #17003, the medal set is the 37th Victoria Cross medal set to be acquired by the museum.
‘A BIT OF A DEVIL’
According to auctioneers, one of Barron’s daughters later recalled her father’s tenacity: “As a young man, he was a bit of a devil. And he was a fighter, too. He could be quite fearsome when his temper was up.”
His temper was “ignited in spectacular fashion by the terrible casualties suffered by his comrades as they closed the formidable Vine Cottage” on Nov. 6, 1917.
“Having taken out three enemy machine-gun posts with a Lewis gun, he proceeded to set about the survivors in no uncertain fashion: an eye-witness later stated that ‘There was a wild melee in the confined space … with Barron using the bayonet and clubbed butt of an old rifle he had picked up, to terrible effect.,’” reads the auction catalogue.
“Then, for good measure, he turned one of the captured machine-guns on the retreating Germans: in so doing he turned the tide of battle, a feat which thousands of artillery shells – and considerable loss of life – had hitherto failed to do.”
Barron was born in Scotland and emigrated to Canada in 1910; seven years later, he was serving in the 3rd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
When the Second World War began in 1939, the 46-year-old Barron joined the Royal Regiment of Canada. He became the first Canadian holder of the Victoria Cross who was not a member of the Permanent Force to be sent overseas. He was a member of the Canadian force that occupied Iceland and afterwards served as Provost Sergeant-Major at 1st Division Headquarters in England.
Back in Toronto at the conclusion of the Second World War, he returned to his job as a security guard at the Don Jail. He later joined the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, for whom he worked at the public broadcaster CBC, Hester How School and Sunnybrook Hospital.
Barron died in Toronto on Aug. 15, 1958 at the age of 64. He’s buried in Veterans’ Section 7, Grave 3562, at Toronto’s Prospect Cemetery.