War museum acquires fourth Victoria Cross from Battle of Hill 70

The Canadian War Museum recently acquired the Victoria Cross awarded to Lieutenant Robert Hill Hanna, of B Company, 29th Infantry Battalion, for his bravery and leadership during a key moment in the Battle of Hill 70 during the First World War.

With this acquisition, the museum now holds four of the six Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians for action at Hill 70 and is currently working on plans for a display of the Hill 70 Victoria Crosses, to be unveiled in 2019. The museum also holds 39 of the 99 Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians.

“The Battle of Hill 70 was a significant tactical victory for the Allies. This medal set is a tangible reminder of that battle and it will help us tell the story in a new display, to be unveiled in one of our galleries,” said James Whitham, acting director general of the Canadian War Museum.

Hanna’s medal was acquired with the support of Cyril Woods through the Hill 70 Memorial Project, of which he’s a founding donor, and with the assistance of the museum’s national collection fund.

“We thank Mr. Woods and members of the Hill 70 Memorial Project for their generosity in making this acquisition possible,” added Whitham.

The Battle of Hill 70, which took place from Aug. 15-25, 1917, was the first major action fought by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie. The Canadian victory gave the Allies a strategically important position overlooking the city of Lens, in France. In achieving this victory, the Canadian Corps suffered 1,877 killed and more than 7,000 wounded or missing in action.

Then a cadet, Robert Hanna is shown in this circa 1914-19 photograph from Library and Archives Canada.

GALLANTRY, COURAGE & LEADERSHIP

Then a Company Sergeant-Major, Hanna was awarded the Victoria Cross for his “outstanding gallantry, personal courage and determined leading of his company.”

He took charge of his company of the 29th Battalion on Aug. 21, after all officers were killed or wounded in three failed assaults. Hanna gathered the survivors for one more assault, rushing a German machine-gun team and knocking it out. He survived the war and died in 1967 near Abbotsford, B.C., at the age of 79.

“As a Canadian born, like Robert Hanna, in Northern Ireland, I am honoured that his Victoria Cross will be preserved and displayed by the Museum for the benefit of all Canadians,” said Woods.

The museum also holds the Victoria Crosses awarded to Sergeant Frederick Hobson, Corporal Filip Konowal and Private Harry Brown for actions after the Battle of Hill 70. The Victoria Cross awarded to Acting Major Okill Massey Learmonth is held by the Governor General’s Foot Guards Regimental Museum, also in Ottawa.

The Victoria Cross awarded to Private Michael James O’Rourke has been missing since the 1920s.

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