My Quarterly Report for June 2020 continues to focus on the 13 Canadians who won the Victoria Cross during the Second World War. Three of these individuals won their award in 3 different theatres of war during the years 1941-1943.The first story is of particular interest to me as Winnipeg is my hometown. I have been told that the Santa Claus Christmas parade in 1941 was a very depressing event to which everyone wore black armbands to mourn the loss and imprisonment of over 600 members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers in Honk Kong.
John Robert Osborn was born in Foulden, England on 2 January 1899. During the First World War, he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Osborn came to Canada in 1920. In 1933, he joined The Winnipeg Grenadiers, a unit of the Non-Permanent Active Militia. When the Second World War began in September 1939, the Grenadiers went on active service and were stationed for a time in Jamaica. In October 1941, at the request of the British Government, the battalion was sent to reinforce the garrison in Hong Kong.
On 8 December 1941, units of the Japanese Army moved against British defences in Hong Kong. By 18 December, three Japanese regiments had landed on the Island. Very early on the morning of 19 December, “A” Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers was ordered to clear the enemy out of a feature named Jardine’s Lookout, and then to advance on Mount Butler and recapture it. Soon after dawn, part of “A” Company led by Company Sergeant-Major Osborne mounted a bayonet charge and took the summit of Mount Butler. Three hours later, when three companies of Japanese troops counterattacked and forced his men down the western slope of the hill, Osborne calmly directed covering fire to keep the enemy at bay. At length, after Osborne’s party had rejoined the rest of “A” Company, the Japanese managed to surround the whole group. By mid-afternoon, having driven off two Japanese attacks and with ammunition running low and casualties mounting, the company commander, Major A.B. Gresham, decided to surrender and stepped out into the open with a white flag. He was immediately shot dead by the Japanese, who now began to throw grenades into “A” Company’s position. CSM Osborne picked up several of the grenades and returned them to the enemy. Finally, a grenade fell in a place where Osborne could not retrieve it in time. Shouting a warning as he shoved one man aside, he threw himself on the grenade, which exploded and killed him instantly. When the story of CSM Osborn’s leadership and sacrifice became known after the defeat of Japan, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
“At Hong Kong on the morning of the 19th December, 1941, a Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers to which Company-Sergeant-Major Osborn belonged, became divided during an attack on Mount Butler, a hill rising steeply above sea level. A part of the Company led by Company-Sergeant-Major Osborn captured the hill at the point of the bayonet and held it for three hours when, owing to the superior numbers of the enemy and to fire from an unprotected flank, the position became untenable. Company-Sergeant-Major Osborn and a small group covered the withdrawal and when their turn came to fall back Osborn, single-handed, engaged the enemy while the remainder successfully joined the Company. Company-Sergeant-Major Osborn had to run the gauntlet of heavy rifle and machine gun fire. With no consideration for his own safety he assisted and directed stragglers to the new Company position, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire to cover their retirement. Wherever danger threatened he was there to encourage his men. During the afternoon the Company was cut off from the Battalion and completely surrounded by the enemy who were able to approach to within grenade throwing distance of the slight depression which the Company were holding. Several enemy grenades were thrown which Company-Sergeant-Major Osborn picked up and threw back. The enemy threw a grenade which landed in a position where it was impossible to pick it up and return it in time. Shouting a warning to his comrades this gallant Warrant Officer threw himself on the grenade which exploded killing him instantly. His self-sacrifice undoubtedly saved the lives of many others. Company-Sergeant-Major Osborn was an inspiring example to all throughout the defence which he assisted so magnificently in maintaining against an overwhelming enemy force for over eight and a half hours, and in his death he displayed the highest qualities of heroism and self-sacrifice.” (London Gazette, no.37517, 2 April 1946)
Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on 10 November 1908. In 1929 he graduated from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and eventually enrolled in the Militia. When the Second World War began, Merritt was serving as an officer in The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. In 1942 he became the commanding officer of The South Saskatchewan Regiment (SSR).
On 19 August 1942, the SSR was one of the infantry battalions from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division that participated in the raid on the French port of Dieppe. The battalion landed on Green Beach immediately in front of Pourville, a village just to the west of Dieppe. In order to reach its objectives east of the village, the Canadians were obliged to cross a bridge over the River Scie, which flowed through Pourville to the sea. The bridge and its approaches were swept by German artillery, machine gun and mortar fire coming from the heights dominating the eastern bank of the Scie, which brought the progress of the SSR to a halt. At this point, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt came forward and took charge, walking calmly across the bridge at least four times under a storm of fire to conduct parties of his men to the eastern side. He then organized and led uphill assaults on several of the concrete “pillboxes” and other enemy positions that looked down on the bridge and the village, and succeeded in clearing them.
Throughout the morning, Merritt energetically led his men, exposing himself recklessly to German fire. Although twice wounded, he organized the withdrawal of his battalion from the Pourville beaches, and mounted a rear guard that ensured that the greater part of the SSR and Queen’s Own The Cameron Highlanders of Canada were re-embarked for England. Merritt and the men of the rear guard could not be brought off, and were compelled to surrender.
For his exemplary leadership and valour, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt was awarded the Victoria Cross. Merritt died in Vancouver, British Columbia on 12 July 2000.
“For matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership whilst commanding his battalion during the Dieppe raid on the 19th August, 1942.
From the point of landing, his unit’s advance had to be made across a bridge in Pourville which was swept by very heavy machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire: the first parties were mostly destroyed and the bridge thickly covered by their bodies. A daring lead was required; waving his helmet, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt rushed forward shouting ‘Come on over! There’s nothing to worry about here.’
He thus personally led the survivors of at least four parties in turn across the bridge. Quickly organising these, he led them forward and when held by enemy pill-boxes he again headed rushes which succeeded in clearing them. In one case he himself destroyed the occupants of the post by throwing grenades into it. After several of his runners became casualties, he himself kept contact with his different positions.
Although twice wounded Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt continued to direct the unit’s operations with great vigour and determination and while organising the withdrawal he stalked a sniper with a Bren gun and silenced him. He then coolly gave orders for the departure and announced his intention to hold off and ‘get even with’ the enemy. When last seen he was collecting Bren and Tommy guns and preparing a defensive position which successfully covered the withdrawal from the beach.
Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt is now reported to be a Prisoner of War.
To this Commanding Officer’s personal daring, the success of his unit’s operations and the safe re-embarkation of a large portion of it were chiefly due.”
(London Gazette, no.35729, 2 October 1942)
Paul Triquet was born in Cabano, Quebec on 2 April 1910. At the age of 17, he joined the Royal 22e Régiment. In December 1943, Captain Triquet was a company commander with the regiment’s battalion serving in Italy with the Canadian Army’s 1st Infantry Division.
On 13 December 1943, plans were made by the 1st Infantry Division to get around the western end of the German defences running inland from the Adriatic Sea just south of the small coastal city of Ortona. By “turning” the enemy line, the 1st Division hoped to open the way to Ortona, its objective, and to capture the city. The key to the success of the plan was an advance by the Royal 22e Régiment north-eastward along the road to Ortona to seize an important road junction.
At 10:30 on the morning of 14 December “C” and “D” Companies of the “Van Doos”, supported by tanks from “C” Squadron of The Ontario Regiment, began moving up both sides of the road. The force had already met and destroyed two German tanks. On the left, about half-way to the hamlet of Casa Berardi, Captain Triquet’s “C” Company began to encounter fierce resistance from enemy machine guns and infantry sheltered in wrecked buildings and in terrain favourable to the defenders, all backed up by tanks and self-propelled guns. On the right, “D” Company became lost and took no further part in the action that day. “C” Company and the Ontario tanks proceeded to fight their way through the opposition, knocking out three more tanks and eliminating the Germans’ defensive positions.
At this stage, the company had been reduced to fifty men and one officer – Triquet. Although ammunition was running low, Triquet, his men and their supporting tanks persevered in the attack, capturing Casa Berardi late in the afternoon and driving on nearly to the crossroads. Here the survivors, now only fifteen strong with four tanks, were stopped by mortar fire, and retired to Casa Berardi to prepare for counterattacks. As darkness fell, “B” Company of the Royal 22e arrived to reinforce Triquet, and by the early hours of 15 December the battalion’s remaining two companies had reached Casa Berardi. The western flank of the German line had been turned. For his courageous and determined leadership resulting in the capture and retention of Casa Berardi, Captain Triquet received the Victoria Cross.
“For determined leadership and example.
The capture of the key road junction on the main Ortona-Orsogna lateral was entirely dependent on securing the hamlet of Casa Berardi. Both this and a gully in front of it had been turned by the Germans into formidable strong points defended by infantry and tanks.
On 14th December, 1943, Captain Triquet’s company of the Royal 22e Regiment with the support of a squadron of a Canadian Armoured Regiment was given the task of crossing the gully and securing Casa Berardi. Difficulties were encountered from the outset. The gully was held in strength and on approaching it the force came under extremely heavy fire from machine guns and mortars. All the company officers and 50 per cent of the men were killed or wounded. Showing superb contempt for the enemy Captain Triquet went round reorganizing the remainder and encouraging them with the words ‘Never mind them, they can’t shoot’. Finally when enemy infiltration was observed on all sides shouting ‘There are enemy in front of us, behind us and on our flanks, there is only one safe place – that is on the objective’ he dashed forward and with his men following him, broke through the enemy resistance. In this action four tanks were destroyed and several enemy machine gun posts silenced.
Against the most bitter and determined defence and under heavy fire Captain Triquet and his company, in close co-operation with the tanks forced their way on until a position was reached on the outskirts of Casa Berardi. By this time the strength of the company was reduced to 2 sergeants and 15 men. In expectation of a counter-attack Captain Triquet at once set about organizing his handful of men into a defensive perimeter around the remaining tanks and passed the ‘mot d’ordre. Ils ne passeront pas’.
A fierce German counter-attack supported by tanks developed almost immediately. Captain Triquet, ignoring the heavy fire, was everywhere encouraging his men and directing the defence and by using whatever weapons were to hand personally accounted for several of the enemy. This and subsequent attacks were beaten off with heavy losses and Captain Triquet and his small force held out against overwhelming odds until the remainder of the battalion took Casa Berardi and relieved them the next day.
Throughout the whole of this engagement Captain Triquet showed the most magnificent courage and cheerfulness under heavy fire. Wherever the action was hottest he was to be seen shouting encouragement to his men and organizing the defence. His utter disregard of danger, his cheerfulness and tireless devotion to duty were a constant source of inspiration to them. His tactical skill and superb leadership enabled them, although reduced by casualties to a mere handful, to continue their advance against bitter resistance and to hold their gains against determined counter-attacks. It was due to him that Casa Berardi was captured and the way opened for the attack on the vital road junction.”
(London Gazette, no.36408, 6 March 1944)
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