Canadian War Museum

Canadian War Museum

March 24, 2005 11:00 ET

Fred Topham's Victoria Cross Donated to the Canadian War Museum


NEWS RELEASE TRANSMITTED BY CCNMatthews

FOR: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM

MARCH 24, 2005 - 11:00 ET

Fred Topham's Victoria Cross Donated to the Canadian
War Museum

HAMILTON, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - March 24, 2005) - In a ceremony held
today at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton Ontario,
medals belonging to the late Corporal Fred Topham, who passed away in
Toronto in May 1974, were donated to the Canadian War Museum by the 1st
Canadian Parachute Battalion. This important donation, which includes
Topham's Victoria Cross, was made possible through a successful
fundraising campaign spearheaded by the Battalion.

On March 24, 1945, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was dropped on
the eastern banks of the Rhine. Shortly after the drop, the unarmed Fred
Topham was tending to casualties as a medical orderly, when he noticed
that two orderlies from an ambulance unit had been killed while treating
a wounded man. Without hesitation, Topham went to help the wounded man,
replacing the orderlies who had just been killed. While he was
administering first aid amidst the bodies of his comrades, Topham was
shot through the nose. Despite heavy bleeding and intense pain, Topham
continued to provide aid to the wounded man, then carried him to safety.

Rather than seek immediate medical aid himself, Topham continued to
bring in other wounded men for the next two hours, under continuous
heavy fire from the enemy. He eventually agreed to have his wound
attended to, but refused to be evacuated when ordered. He then set out
to rejoin his company and, on the way, encountered a burning armoured
Bren carrier that had received a direct enemy hit. The carrier included
three wounded men who were in danger of being killed or burned to death,
as the carrier's mortar rounds exploded around them. Topham went out
alone, through enemy fire, and successfully brought all three men to
safety. One of the three soon died, but Topham arranged for the medical
evacuation of the two survivors.

"The human side of war is what the Canadian War Museum is all about,"
said Joe Geurts, Director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum. "Among the
most stirring stories we share are the ones related to the courage and
spirit of Canada's Victoria Cross recipients. With the help of important
donations such as the medal set belonging to Corporal Fred Topham,
history comes to life as we present the human drama behind the
artifacts. This medal set will have particular resonance for our
visitors, as many Canadians have become aware of this story due to media
coverage surrounding the fundraising campaign."

Jan de Vries, President of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion
Association, said, "I am very grateful for the donations made by so many
Canadians. Their generosity has made this fundraising campaign so
successful that Fred Topham's Victoria Cross, his story and the role of
the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in liberating Europe, will be
preserved and shared with Canadians for years to come."

The Corporal Topham, V.C. medal set consists of the Victoria Cross, the
1939-1945 Star, the France & Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the
Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Overseas Bar, the British War
Medal 1939-1945, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, and the
Canadian Centennial Medal 1967. The Victoria Cross is the British
Empire's highest military honour, and was awarded to 94 Canadians from
the nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War. Since that
time, Canada has had its own military awards, including a Canadian
version of the Victoria Cross, established in 1993.

Fred Topham will be showcased in Gallery 3 of the permanent exhibition,
covering the years 1931 to 1945 at the new Canadian War Museum. His
Victoria Cross medal group will be on display in an area devoted to
telling his and Canada's role in the final stages of the Second World
War.

The new Canadian War Museum will open to the public on the weekend of
May 7 & 8, 2005.


BACKGROUNDER


The Victoria Cross and Corporal Fred Topham, V.C. (August 1917-May 1974)

The Victoria Cross was instituted on February 5, 1856 with the first
awards given to heroes of the Crimean War (1854-1856). One of the
earliest recipients was Canadian-born Lieutenant Alexander Dunn, V.C.,
of the famed Charge of the Light Brigade.

Since its inception, the Victoria Cross has been awarded to 94
Canadians. Eight of these awards were for actions during the late
nineteenth century and the South African War (1899-1902). The vast
majority - 70 Victoria Crosses - were awarded for actions during the
First World War (1914-1918), and 16 were awarded for the Second World
War (1939-1945). No Victoria Crosses have been awarded to Canadians
since, and its issue was discontinued when Canada instituted its own
awards for bravery and gallantry during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Victoria Cross was re-instituted in 1993 as Canada's highest award
for bravery in the face of the enemy, and it is distinguished from the
earlier British issue by the Latin words Pro Valore.

To date, none of the new Canadian Victoria Crosses have been awarded,
and all of the 94 awards to Canadian recipients have been under the
former British awards system. The Canadian War Museum has 27 Victoria
Crosses in its collection, including one from the nineteenth century, 23
from the First World War and three from the Second World War.

One of the most recent donations to the Museum is a medal set awarded to
Corporal Fred Topham, V.C. The Corporal Topham, V.C. medal set consists
of the Victoria Cross, the 1939-1945 Star, the France & Germany Star,
the Defence Medal, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Overseas
Bar, the British War Medal 1939-1945, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation
Medal 1953, and the Canadian Centennial Medal 1967.

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Contact Information

  • FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
    Canadian War Museum
    Pierre Leduc
    Communications Officer
    (819) 776-8608 or (613) 858-2934 (Cell)
    pierre.leduc@warmuseum.ca
    or
    Canadian War Museum
    Christina Selin
    Senior Communications Officer
    (819) 776-8607 or (613) 371-4402 (Cell)
    christina.selin@warmuseum.ca