National Treasure #168: Filip Konowal

Your exploit is one of the most daring and heroic in the history of my army.
For this, accept my thanks.

I was so fed up standing in the trench with water to my waist
that I said the hell with it and started after the German army.
My captain tried to shoot me because he figured I was deserting.

Well, there you have it: the perspective of King George V versus the perspective of the corporal himself in the trenches, as laid out in a comprehensive article on this Victoria Cross recipient in the Canadian Encyclopedia.   

Mistakenly identified as Russian when he entered Canada, Konowal was Ukrainian, but this misidentification meant he could volunteer for the army during the Great War, when Ukrainian immigrants were being identified as a security risk. A non-commissioned officer, he went on to fight in the Battle of the Somme and led a squad of Japanese-Canadians (oh, the irony) in the Battle for Hill 70, 100 years ago.

His life after WWI wasn’t always easy:

  • He never again saw the wife and daughter he’d left in the Ukraine, although he did marry again.
  • He killed a man and was hospitalized for insanity.
  • He was destitute after his 1928 release from hospital, but another Victoria Cross recipient (Major Milton Fowler Gregg, Sergeant-at-Arms at the House of Commons), got him work as a junior caretaker on Parliament Hill.
  • PM William Lyon Mackenzie King found out about him (recognized him, maybe) and appointed him as special caretaker for the PM’s office, and he worked there until his death at 72.

If you’re interested in the Great War,
check out John Robson’s online documentary: The Great War Remembered.
It’s 90 minutes.

 

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