When engineers from Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden saw the display for Victoria Cross medal recipient Captain Frederick Campbell in the stairwell of the Royal Canadian Legion here, they knew they had to do something to further honour the First World War veteran.
“We couldn’t walk away, we could not leave this building without at least attempting and asking the branch if we could do something to provide justice to that most prestigious medal that there is in the military,” said Captain Jeremy Marsh, deputy commanding officer of engineers at Base Borden.
On May 14, Marsh and three other members of the Real Property Operations Detachment (engineers) at Borden unveiled a brand new display for Campbell’s Victoria Cross and other military insignia at Legion Branch 134 in Mount Forest.
The other engineering members in attendance included Aviator Chris Lalonde, who designed and built the display and researched Campbell’s life; Paul Clark, who first contacted the Legion; and Warant Kettlewell, who was responsible keeping the Victoria Cross medal secure while it was at Base Borden.
The display includes a brand new, custom built case to hold Campbell’s medals and other mementos, and a book of documents resting on a pedestal in front of the case. The book includes research about Campbell’s life, official documents and letters he wrote home during his time in the military.
“These Victoria Crosses are priceless … because of what was done to earn [them],” Marsh said.
Legion president Kathleen MacRobbie said it felt, “Really good … that they’re willing to help us out.”
The Mount Forest Legion walls are covered with military memorabilia and MacRobbie said there are additional rooms full of more because there isn’t enough space to display everything.
“If we could have a bigger Legion we’d have more up,” she said.
In February the Borden group first saw Campbell’s Victoria Cross display when they were at the Legion donating a plaque from the Frederick Campbell VC Building, a school on Base Borden that was torn down two years ago.
“The policy on Base Borden [is] all the public schools were all named after Victoria Cross winners,” Clark explained. Campbell was one of them.
Before the school was demolished Clark saved the plaque to donate it to the Mount Forest legion.
“There are certain things that just should not be given to anybody else,” he said.
During a tour following the plaque presentation, the group saw the original Victoria Cross medal display in the stairwell going down to the hall.
“We proposed borrowing their Victoria Cross and providing it its right dressing that we feel is on display here now,” Marsh said.
Campbell is one of 99 Victoria Cross recipients in Canada, and one of 1,351 recipients worldwide. The award was created in 1856 by Queen Victoria and is presented, “For most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy,” according to the Veterans Affairs Canada website.
Campbell was born in Mount Forest on June 15, 1869. He fought in the South African War before ultimately losing his life in the First World War.
He earned the Victoria Cross as Lieutenant of the 1st Battalion, CEF when he was in a battle in Givenchy, France.
On his 48th birthday, June 15, 1915, Campbell led an attack on what was considered an “impregnable” German trench line using two machine guns. After reaching the German line, many of his men were killed but Campbell and another soldier moved to an exposed position to hold off the counter attack so those soldiers who survived could retreat.
It was on his own retreat that Campbell received the gunshot wound that would ultimately lead to his death on June 19, 1915.
Campbell is not the only Victoria Cross recipient honoured at the Mount Forest Legion. Samuel Lewis Honey was born in Conn and received his Victoria Cross for services in the First World War. He died in September 1918.
To fund the Campbell project, Marsh said all of the military members of the engineering cell made donations to have the medals cleaned. The case, however, was a different story.
“The display case was done during a training opportunity for our young carpenters in our shop, with basically our material that we had in ‘shop stock’ as we call it,” Marsh explained.
“These are the types of things that we construct at Base Borden.”
The carpenters are sometimes called upon to “provide the flag of honour that a family member may take if one of their loved ones were to be killed in action,” Marsh said.
So he said it’s important to take training opportunities when they present themselves.
Lalonde, a carpenter for eight years before he joined the military said, “I just wanted to keep it a simple design. I didn’t want to take anything away from the Victoria Cross.”
Along with Campbell’s medals, Lalonde included coins from the 1800s in the display as well as the Red Ensign (the nation’s flag prior to 1965) in one corner and the current Canadian flag in the other.